MIAMI — The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has spoken. On Monday, November 7, the DOT announced its long-awaited verdict on the pending Los Angeles-Beijing route, selecting American Airlines to receive new non-stop route authority.
The decision means that American Airlines beat out Delta Air Lines for the right to serve the route. Back in March of this year, both Delta and American submitted applications to the DOT to fly between Los Angeles and Beijing, launching the two carriers into competition for route authority.
The current US-China aviation agreement caps the total number of weekly frequencies that each country’s airlines can operate between primary Chinese cities, including Beijing. Therefore, the DOT was not able to honor both carrier’s requests, and has proposed American Airlines to receive the flights.
The DOT’s decision is tentative, with objections to the verdict due by November 22, 2016. All interested parties may then file answers to those objections by November 29, 2016. Therefore, final route authority will not be granted until sometime after November 29.
In a statement, American Airlines commended the DOT’s tentative decision: “We’re very pleased the Department of Transportation has tentatively awarded American the necessary U.S.-China frequencies to serve Beijing from our West Coast gateway at Los Angeles International Airport,” said American spokesman Matt Miller. “This new service further underscores American’s commitment to providing customers with a world-class global network from our Los Angeles hub.”
Both carriers, including American, had proposed December 16, 2016 as the tentative launch date for the route at the time the applications were filed. Miller confirmed that the airline would instead launch sometime after that date, given the very short selling window for the flight. The airline is “[looking] forward to starting daily, year-round service between Los Angeles and Beijing in 2017.” Miller noted that the airline would be required to launch flights within 90 days of the DOT’s final order.
In its press release, the DOT seemed to agree with American’s initial argument that connecting a “third U.S. carrier to the West Coast-Beijing market” would benefit consumers. In its earlier briefings filed with the DOT, American had strongly highlighted that it remained the only of the three major U.S. carriers without a non-stop flight to Beijing, China from the west coast. Delta operates service to Beijing from its Seattle hub, while United offers Beijing flights from its San Francisco hub.
American’s push to add Beijing service from Los Angeles is a part of its larger “Best in LAX” efforts. American has emphasized its position as the market share leader in Los Angeles, and has built LAX into a key international gateway for transpacific traffic. Beijing would be just the latest addition to its transpacific network from the airport, which has recently welcomed Hong Kong, Sydney, and Auckland flights as well.
Assuming American wins final route authority from the DOT, it will become the first U.S. carrier to offer non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Beijing. Air China is the only other carrier on the route, operating three daily frequencies.
Although the DOT’s decision is not yet final, it appears that non-stop service from a U.S.-based carrier connecting Los Angeles with China’s capital city is right around the corner. American Airlines scored a big victory today, and Delta is now on the clock to file an objection to the DOT’s verdict.