American is evaluating LAX as possible hub for Asia flights, the airline’s president said

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

American Airlines is evaluating ways to make Los Angeles a primary gateway to Asia, but that does not mean it will happen, Flight Global’s Edward Russell reported this week.

“Figuring out how to make Los Angeles successful and a gateway to Asia is a strategic issue for us,” American Airlines Group president Scott Kirby said on April 4 at the Phoenix International Aviation Symposium. The Flight Global story is behind the site’s paywall but Russell gave me permission to cite it. Kirby said LAX is “very important,” to American.

In terms of Trans-Pacific flights, Los Angeles has been a difficult market for U.S-based carriers. American (Shanghai and Tokyo), Delta (both Tokyo airports) and United (Tokyo and Shanghai) have relatively few flights from L.A. across the Pacific. United and Delta have both had Hong Kong flights in the past, but no longer. LAX is still well covered in terms of international lift, but most of it comes from major international carriers ANA, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Korean, Asiana, Eva Airways, etc.

It’s possible American will change the dynamic. Los Angeles is not the ideal place for a Pacific gateway because it has not historically been as strong of a connecting hub as other airports. Flights tend to work best when there’s a good mix of local traffic (Angelenos in this case) along with connecting traffic. (Passengers from places like Phoenix and Salt Lake and Sacramento, etc. who come to the hub only long enough to change planes.) These gateways tend to be more lucrative when there’s relatively little competition from international carriers.

Los Angeles has the local traffic. The connecting traffic issue is more complicated. Yes, American has flights from throughout country to Los Angeles. But compared to say, Dallas and Chicago, Los Angeles is a small hub. So there are far fewer connecting passengers to feed the international flights. And it’s hard for American to add more domestic flights to feed the international ones, because the airline is gate constrained in L.A. Russell says American has access to 24 gates at LAX, though 10 of them are in a remote terminal and can only handle regional jets. It is to receive access to a few more gates in the airport’s new international terminal, but that’s no panacea.

Still, American is now the world’s largest airline. And as the world’s largest airline, American may need a West Coast gateway. San Francisco is taken — United owns it. And Delta is building a global hub from scratch in Seattle. So that leaves L.A. (I’m assuming that Phoenix is not a viable option.)

Here’s another thing people don’t think about with L.A. It’s actually quite a bit farther from Asia than San Francisco and Seattle. Russell says L.A. is 327 miles farther from Asia than San Francisco. L.A is about 432 miles father from Asia than Seattle.

What do you think? Will American try to build an Asian gateway in L.A.?

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