MIAMI — American Airlines will be making some adjustments to its intercontinental network starting in early 2017 to minimize potential impact of Brexit and continued challenges in Latin America.
The carriers’ latest push into Europe, primarily from its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub, dovetails off of transpacific expansion efforts that have been taking place at its Los Angeles (LAX) hub and reap the continued advantages that the 787 Dreamliner program brings to its newly merged network.
The carrier has stated that overall capacity on its transatlantic network will remain flat year-over-year between Summer 2016 and Summer 2017, indicating that it is testing its potential in unchartered territory such as DFW – Rome and exiting from weaker markets like Philadelphia – Brussels and Chicago O’Hare to Dusseldorf.
Additionally, the latest round of changes to its European network underscores the inevitable fine-tuning of its transatlantic route model, in context of the culmination of the AA – US Airways merger, which is approaching its one year anniversary in mid-October 2016.
Arguably, the new management team at American – under the direction of CEO Doug Parker – has been clear about their unwavering support for growing international operations at pre-merger American hubs, while some of those acquired from US Airways will be re-valuated and/or suspended to optimize revenue potential.
American tries its hand at DFW – Amsterdam and DFW – Rome, effectively controlling over 90% of the market share on Dallas – Europe
American will be launching new daily service from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Amsterdam and Rome starting in May 2017, adding to its existing portfolio of flights to London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid from DFW. Inclusive of the joint venture agreement with British Airways, American and OneWorld will control over 90% of the transatlantic market share between Dallas and Europe.
The only other carrier that will remain between DFW and Europe that is not aligned to OneWorld, or any non-affiliated partnership group with American, will be Lufthansa, which operates daily flights to Frankfurt.
American will be back-filling for KLM, who served DFW – Amsterdam from March 2008 thru October 2015. KLM operated year-round services to Amsterdam on a 5-weekly basis until summer 2012, where the operation was converted to seasonal service from May through October each year. KLM opted out of resuming its DFW station in summer 2016 given the surge in Middle Eastern carriers competing for sixth-freedom traffic to Africa, India and the Gulf from DFW, and opted instead to grow its presence at fortified SkyTeam hubs such as Salt Lake City.
Air Berlin had also announced intentions to serve DFW starting in summer 2016, with a thrice-weekly service to Dusseldorf, but the service was cancelled before it even commenced due to poor advanced bookings.
DFW-Amsterdam will be American’s second transatlantic route to Schiphol airport, a market that it had unserved entirely until the merger with US Airways (it operates a year-round service from Philadelphia to Amsterdam). Though KLM was present in the market for several years, the Dallas – Amsterdam sector is not a large local market, and KLM’s success in this corridor was highly dependent on connecting traffic.
American’s proposed route will be operated on a 767-300ER, which will feature one of American’s newer business class products in the front cabin, although its Economy class product on this aircraft is extremely outdated.
Rome will also be an interesting addition to DFW’s network given that no carrier currently serves Rome from Texas, much less west of the Mississippi river, other than SkyTeam’s seasonal service from Los Angeles to Rome on Alitalia and from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Rome on Delta.
With the addition of DFW, American will operate flights to Rome from five of its hubs: Charlotte, Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, Philadelphia and now Dallas. The DFW route will be operated on a 777-200ER.
The announcement of DFW-Europe services on American occurs several weeks after it was reported in the Fort Worth Star Telegram that Dallas/Ft. Worth International airport was voting on “revamping” an incentive program used to attract more foreign carriers.
Though the article stated that DFW was aiming for long-range routes flown on larger-gauge aircraft to cities like Melbourne, Nagoya and Addis Ababa, Europe was identified as an area of desirable growth.
There may be additional markets for consideration, with Dublin emerging as the likeliest candidate given the impending join of Aer Lingus into oneworld. American may consider giving Dublin a shot in the arm either with a 767 or a 787-8. American has 17 787-8s currently in service, with 25 additional 787 variants in the pipeline for delivery.
Three of them will be the -8 series and 22 will come from the -9 family, the latter of which will enter into service this November. American has already stated that its first -9 candidates out of DFW will be São Paulo, Madrid and Paris – CDG routes.
This will be American’s first market additions from DFW to Europe in 8 years, when it commenced nonstop service to Madrid in 2009. In addition to serving London, Frankfurt and Paris, American has previously attempted service between Dallas and Manchester, Zurich and Brussels.
Amsterdam and Rome will be challenging sells with operations on older, costlier aircraft, small local markets that are not particularly high-yielding, and longer stage sectors than some of American’s East Coast – Europe routes that generally do not require the same level of higher revenue mixes to operate successfully.
If American manages to capture untapped demand from the Southwest, Central and Mountain West regions, then achieving strong load factors will be less of a challenge.
American trades in Chicago O’Hare – Dusseldorf route for Barcelona. Weekly operations will be flat, ASMs will rise slightly
American is also making adjustments to its transatlantic network from its Chicago O’Hare hub. The carrier flew its final service to Dusseldorf on September 6, 2016, and will close the station entirely next summer.
The carrier will also suspend nonstop service to Paris CDG and Manchester, UK from January 9, 2017 through March 25, 2017. Service to Dublin will conclude on October 28, resuming on May 5, 2017, and service to Rome will conclude on the same date, resuming on March 25, 2017.
This will mean that for the month of February 2017, and for most of January and March 2017, American will be operating service to a single transatlantic market from Chicago O’Hare, and that will be its 3x daily service to London Heathrow, operated on a mix of 767-300ERs and 777-300ERs.
Comparatively, United Airlines will be operating service to Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich and Paris, in addition to London Heathrow, during the winter months from its Chicago O’Hare hub. However, even though its roster of European markets is larger than American’s from O’Hare, United will be offering pared-down schedules to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Munich during the slower winter season.
Comparing American’s transatlantic hub operations at Chicago O’Hare with United paints a story of contrasts. American has gradually pulled down transatlantic capacity from its Chicago O’Hare hub since 2004. The carrier offered nearly 3,500 annual flights to Europe by year-end 2004 whereas in 2016, it will have operated slightly above 2,300 annual flights to Europe by year-end, reflecting nearly 50% decline in Available Seat Miles (ASMs) over the 12 years.
This data does not include routes flown by joint-venture partners British Airways, Iberia or Finnair from Chicago to London Heathrow, Madrid and Helsinki.
The Chicago O’Hare hub peaked in summer 2007 with 3,890 annual flights to Europe to eight transcontinental markets. It experienced its steepest decline year-over-year between summer 2014 and 2015.
Over the 12-year period, American has added service to Dublin, withdrawn service to Glasgow, Brussels and Frankfurt, and both added and withdrawn service to Dusseldorf, Helsinki, Moscow and Shannon.
United’s transatlantic growth at Chicago O’Hare has been nearly inversely proportional to American’s, with the carrier growing from slightly over 2,500 annual flights in 2004 to nearly 3,500 in 2016. American has witnessed year-over-year declines in ASM growth during 7 of the past 12 operating years whereas United has only experienced 2 years of minor year-over-year declines.
While American has not peaked at O’Hare in nearly a decade, United has recorded peak transatlantic years in both 2015 and 2016.
United has also grown and maintained its European operations from Chicago O’Hare since 2004, adding service to Brussels, Dublin, Edinburgh, Munich, Rome and Shannon over the years.
American will be adding five additional gates at Chicago O’Hare – a project estimated to cost between $65 and $70 million – to be used by regional aircraft.
It will also be re-designing its Flagship lounge at O’Hare as part of a broader redesign of its global lounges.
American cancels two European routes from Philadelphia due to loss of connections from Star Alliance
Philadelphia will lose the most in summer 2017 when it sees a discontinuation of service to Brussels and Zurich. Both routes were launched in 2007 by US Airways (prior to merging with American) and at the time, were supported by the presence of Star Alliance carriers (Brussels Airlines and SWISS, respectively) which was advantageous for US Airways while it was still a member of Star.
US Airways previously carried Brussels Airlines’ code (SN) from May 2010 through March 2014 on its Philadelphia – Brussels route. Brussels Airlines carried the US Airways code on over 27 routes throughout continental Europe and Africa, while US Airways carried the SN code on over 50 routes from Philadelphia within the United States.
To Zurich, US Airways and SWISS code-sharing from May 2008 lasted through November 2012, but the codeshare was much more limited in scope. US Airways carried the LX code solely on its Philadelphia – Zurich route, while SWISS carried the US Airways code on its operated flights from Zurich to Athens, Copenhagen, Moscow, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hannover, Istanbul, London Heathrow, Luxembourg, Lyons, Milan, Nice, Nuremberg, Bucharest, Stuttgart, Berlin and Vienna.
American inherited its Philadelphia hub from US Airways after the merger, and retired the 767-200 fleet that US Airways operated on several of its transatlantic routes, both from Philadelphia and Charlotte.
During summers 2015 and 2016, US Airways’ transatlantic network from Philadelphia was entirely comprised of Airbus A330 routes, 757s and one 767-300ER, flown by American-operated crews, to Zurich.
With the Philadelphia reductions, American will exit entirely from Brussels and will reduce its Zurich operation to a single daily flight to New York JFK. American also cancelled US Airways’ long-standing flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv earlier this year.
Per the data below, American/US Airways’ Philadelphia hub peaked in 2009 based on frequency of weekly transatlantic flights. On an ASM basis, however, the numbers remained above 5 billion ASMs until 2016, which was attributed to a decrease in 876 departures year-over-year from 2015.
In 2016, American increased frequencies in only 4 of the 18 markets that it flew from Philadelphia to Europe/Middle East in 2015 (Amsterdam, Dublin, Lisbon and Shannon). Four markets (Brussels, Frankfurt, London Heathrow and Tel Aviv) experienced decreases in over 75 annual departures year-over year, while the rest experienced marginal year-over-year decreases.
In addition to its Philadelphia – Tel Aviv cancellation earlier this year, American also reduced its Philadelphia – London Heathrow services from 2 to 1 daily frequency. American will also suspend flights from Philadelphia to Frankfurt from November 2016 to March 2017. However, American will still offer year-round services from its Dallas/Ft. Worth and Charlotte hubs to Frankfurt.
The network optimizations are not surprising given that both L-AA and L-US had very strong transatlantic hubs
Conventional wisdom would imply that shuttering flights like Philadelphia – Zurich are a harbinger for further cuts to come out of American’s Philadelphia hub. But the more realistic explanation is that such adjustments are to be expected when two mega carriers are roughly 3 years well into their integration.
Mergers do not create new routes; bankruptcies do. The massive expansion efforts undertaken by L-US Airways, both across the Atlantic and to Latin America (back when US launched services to Brazil from its Charlotte hub) occurred after exiting Chapter 11 in the late 2000’s. It is noteworthy that from 2009 all the way through its merger with American, US Airways attempted its hand at only one new transatlantic market: Edinburgh.
American has never underplayed the feasibility of having multiple Northeast “gateways” to Europe between New York JFK and Philadelphia, with Chicago O’Hare, Charlotte and Dallas/Ft. Worth playing secondary roles to non-Northeast originating/terminating traffic.
At Philadelphia, the challenge will be balancing the impacts of sustaining (traditionally) lower-yielding flights on transatlantic routes against legacy American’s more yield-rich routes to New York, Chicago and Dallas/Ft. Worth. Unquestionably, Philadelphia’s routes to cities like Athens, Venice, Glasgow, Lisbon and Shannon have very low local load factors and are highly-dependent upon connections. But, even with lower segment fares, connecting traffic can help drive up revenue contributions to the overall network.
It also does not hurt that Philadelphia is a largely uncontested market, with regards to competition, compared to New York JFK and Chicago on transatlantic routes.
In summary, it will be unlikely that American will pull-down the Philadelphia hub on additional transatlantic routes, perhaps aside from some seasonal adjustments during slower periods.
Philadelphia will still retain nonstop access to 15 points in Europe next year, with eight of them served year-round (London Heathrow, Manchester, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Munich, Dublin and Rome) and seven severed seasonally (Lisbon, Athens, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Shannon and Venice).
Put simply, the sky is not falling in Philadelphia.
While American will not be able to emulate the same type of network model in Philadelphia, and broadly across the Northeast, that competes at the same level as United in Newark or Delta in Atlanta, the carrier can still execute a successful strategy from having multiple-frequency services to markets like Rome, Barcelona, Dublin, Manchester and Paris, rather than fail in cities like Birmingham just for network presence.
Moreover, the impending JV with Aer Lingus will open up an entirely new set of connection opportunities to secondary and tertiary European markets over Dublin, with the added benefit of Pre-Clearance facilities in Ireland, to help off-set the loss of cities like Brussels.
Going forward, American’s leadership is poised to take advantage of the “New American’s” network, capitalizing on strategic opportunities while making sensible decisions when market conditions are in limbo. The uniqueness of this position should not be overlooked by competitors.