The Daily Manila Shimbun


FOCUS: U.S. carriers hope for expanded services from Tokyo’s Haneda airport

January 6, 2017

TOKYOWith just over two months having passed since the opening of daytime slots for U.S.-bound flights at Tokyo's Haneda airport, a top official at American Airlines Group Inc. has expressed interest in further expanding its presence at the Japanese capital's busy gateway. In a recent interview with Kyodo News, Robert Isom, the group's president, embraced the new arrangement at Haneda, generally favored by airlines over Narita, the other airport serving the greater Tokyo region, because of its proximity to the city center and ample connecting opportunities to local cities in Japan. The enthusiasm over daytime services at Haneda is shared by two other major carriers, United Airlines Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., as more slots are expected to be added toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, while the appeal of Narita to them appears to be slipping. American Airlines has shifted its Los Angeles service to arrival and departure at Haneda in afternoon to evening hours from slots straddling midnight. "We are really pleased with our flights to Haneda," Isom said, adding that its Los Angeles service is attracting not just leisure but also business travelers who prefer an earlier departure time. "So it works very well for us and it has achieved the results we were hoping for." "We are looking forward to flying more frequently to Haneda," Isom added. As for the next potential U.S. destination, he cited Dallas Fort Worth airport, its main hub. "Dallas will be the first priority." Following a bilateral aviation agreement in February, U.S. carriers have been allowed since Oct. 30 a total of six round trips per day to and from Haneda including five during "daytime" defined essentially as between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Previously, they only had access to hours around midnight with limited connection possibilities and the U.S. destinations restricted to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. U.S. airlines scrambled for the limited openings of lucrative slots at Haneda, a magnet for business travelers. Narita, their main airport in Japan, still offers greater access and frequency to overseas destinations but Haneda has a far broader range of domestic flights and has been increasing cross-border services. Haneda's flight slots are expected to increase toward the 2020 Olympics from 447,000 per year now by up to 39,000 -- all for cross-border flights. This will eventually boost international slots by 43 percent to 129,000 slots possibly by the target year. Since the late October openings, Delta has inaugurated a flight linking Haneda with its Minneapolis/St. Paul hub, while a total of four late night flights have been moved to daytime -- one each to Los Angeles by American and Delta, San Francisco by United and Honolulu by Hawaiian Airlines Inc. The night time slot was sought only by, and given to, Hawaiian. It is now flying thrice weekly from Haneda to Kona and four to Honolulu. On Dallas, American's Isom noted strong passenger demand in the Texas metropolis which has "a vibrant economic climate" with not just natural resources but also technology, finance and transportation businesses. The region has been drawing Japanese investments such as from Toyota Motor Corp., which is relocating its key U.S. operations to a Dallas suburb in 2017. Isom described Toyota's expected presence as "a massive operation." American currently links Dallas with three daily flights from Narita including one by its oneworld alliance partner Japan Airlines Co. Isom said opening a Haneda flight to Dallas "depends on the market" and did not rule out four flights per day from the two Tokyo area airports to the Texas city. Meanwhile, United also welcomed Haneda's new openings. Marcel Fuchs, its vice president of Atlantic and Pacific sales, said, "We are delighted to provide a more convenient service than ever before," referring to the shift of its San Francisco service to daytime. "We have connectivity with 25 cities in Japan" over Haneda compared with seven previously, he said. Despite an increased focus on Haneda, United says that Narita will continue playing a part in the carrier's global system, thanks to its "strong joint venture partnership with ANA." All Nippon Airways Co. is a member of the Star Alliance grouping led by United. "We are committed to Narita services," Fuchs said. "We believe the Narita hub and Haneda could co-exist and complement each other." With the exception of its flight to Seoul, however, United has terminated all routes from Narita to other Asian cities including a service to Singapore, suspended in June last year. Delta said the new flight to its Minneapolis hub is generating demand "exceeding initial expectations" with nearly 80 percent of seats filled, according to a public relations official. Many are connecting passengers, the official said. The Los Angeles service "is maintaining high seat occupancy and strong reservations after it moved to daytime," the official said. The service had enjoyed nearly 90 percent occupancy even when it flew at nighttime. In the Japanese market, Delta lacks a local partner in its SkyTeam alliance and appears keen on expanding Haneda services. But it had warned it would be forced to close U.S.-bound flights out of Narita, its main hub in Asia, if Haneda allocates daytime slots for trans-Pacific services and draw passengers away from Narita, according to a Japanese diplomatic source. At Narita, Delta closed its Minneapolis and Los Angeles links on Oct. 29 as it gained Haneda daytime slots and suspended flights to New York and Bangkok as well as a connecting passenger-only flight to and from Osaka's Kansai airport and a flight from Kansai to Guam, all in October. Peter Carter, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Delta said "Delta is committed to doing our best" to maintain its Narita hub "for as long as possible" but added, "Delta will make a careful assessment and adjust our network accordingly." (Kyodo News)