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ANALYSIS: Japan Airlines Returns to DFW, But In a Completely Different Era

ANALYSIS: Japan Airlines Returns to DFW, But In a Completely Different Era

Japan Airlines returns to DFW after a 14-year hiatus, and becomes the tenth international carrier to start service at DFW in a decade.

» Airlines - W | Thursday, December 24, 2015 • Air News Times

DFW Airport, which has been in steady, “growth mode” for the past five years on the international air service front, welcomed the return of Japan Airlines on November 30, 2015 after over 14 years since the carrier cancelled its previous service in October 2001. Though the service initially commenced with 4 weekly flights, JAL announced during the inaugural flight ceremony that service will increase to daily frequencies on 27 March 2016 due to strong forward bookings.

Oneworld carrier airberlin also announced in November that it will commence four weekly services to Dusseldorf from Dallas/Ft. Worth effective May 6, 2016, which will be operated year-round. airberlin will be the fourth European carrier to fly to DFW and be the first non-U.S. carrier to launch service from DFW to Europe since 2008.

The Tsurumaru returns to DFW, but in a completely different era

JAL had previously operated a daily service to Tokyo Narita from March 1999, alternating between a Boeing 747-400 and MD-11 “J-Bird” before canning the service shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

When JAL announced it would commence service to DFW in the late 1990’s, the news was extremely high-profile. Back then, DFW did not have a consolidated terminal used to house international flights, and had to construct a new 35,000 square foot Federal Inspection Service facility at Terminal B and a common use VIP lounge. Additionally, the airport had to reconfigure four bridge-served gates to accommodate widebody aircraft. That same year, DFW had launched a Carrier Support Program, which provided marketing funds to attract new airline entrants.

The JAL service to DFW previously operated side-by-side with American Airlines in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, with American providing a single daily flight to Tokyo Narita from its DFW hub, also on an MD-11 (and later on a 777-200ER). During that era, JAL was not a member of the OneWorld alliance, but the carrier did enjoy an extensive bilateral agreement with American on transpacific services. Each offered a reciprocal codeshare on transoceanic flights between the U.S. and Japan, and when JAL eventually became part of OneWorld in 2007, it was the largest carrier in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of both revenue and passengers carried.

In many respects, the return of the “Tsurumaru” to North Texas is symbolic: the Japanese carrier scrapped its iconic crane circle logo in 2002 shortly after pulling the plug on its DFW service, adopting its “arc of the sun” livery for nearly a decade before reverting back to the crane in 2011.

But the years of the Arc livery were turbulent for Japan Airlines: the carrier filed for bankruptcy in January 2010 following a painful 2009 USD $1.7 billion loss that required a government-led turnaround. One of the most sensitive issues in the earlier part of the bankruptcy exercises was the future of JAL's partnerships as the government entertained the possibility of JAL ditching American and OneWorld in favor of Delta and SkyTeam. JAL cut 40% of international capacity in 2010, and shrank to a shell of what it once was as it entered into one of the largest corporate restructuring programs in Japanese history. Though JAL ultimately opted to remain in OneWorld, the carrier was on the brink of insolvency.

However, in 2011, JAL achieved a major milestone the following year once it gained anti-trust immunity with American Airlines that eventually paved way to a transpacific joint venture agreement that exists today. The following year, JAL achieved an industry-leading profit margin of 17% in 2012, leapfrogging global carriers and stunning the global aviation community. The Tsurumaru livery was reinstated and the "Arc" was placed in sunset mode following a cadre mentality that abandoning the crane had been of bad omen for the company in the 2000’s.

But now the tides have cleared, and JAL is a much leaner, albeit smaller, competitor, and the landscape has changed completely. JAL will soon celebrate its 5th year of its revenue-sharing Joint Business agreement with American come April 1, 2016, which covers trans-pacific service operated on both carriers between North America and Japan, China, South Korea and Hong Kong, as well as on JAL’s intra-Asia and domestic Japanese network and American’s North American network between the domestic U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Secondly, JAL may be smaller, but it is nevertheless strategic. Compared to rival All Nippon Airways, which has chased after market share rather than yield in its global network, JAL has stuck to a conservative approach of opening a mere 6 new long-haul routes since its bankruptcy, according to CAPA, including Narita to Boston, San Diego, Helsinki and Dallas, as well as Osaka to Los Angeles and Nagoya to Bangkok. Purportedly, JAL must undergo an approval process in order to launch new routes, as its restructuring was state-sponsored (per CAPA).

It has also helped that JAL has been able to add several transpacific services from Haneda airport, which now offers nonstop connections to San Francisco and Honolulu, and new service to Los Angeles will commence in spring 2016 via JV partner American.

Finally, DFW itself has emerged as a much more attractive transit point, as well as end-of-line market, than it was before in 2001. For starters, JAL will be operating into DFW’s International Terminal D, already a decade old but a far cry from its former real-estate at the now regional gate-oriented Terminal B. DFW has invested in or is in the process of up-grading its other terminal facilities, airline VIP lounges and now has a state-of-the-art Automated People Mover System to ferry connecting traffic between terminals.

Japanese automaker Toyota announced in May 2014 that it would move its U.S. Headquarters from Southern California to Plano, a suburb of Dallas, and will continue to ramp-up its production facilities in Mexico.  One of the biggest selling points is the connectivity options available from DFW to Latin America. DFW has added service to Bogota, Buenos Aires, Chihuahua, Cozumel, Guatemala City, Ixtapa, Liberia, Managua, Mazatlan, Morelia, Puebla, Queretaro, Quito, Panama City, Roatan, San Luis Potosi, San Salvador and Torreon since JAL’s earlier DFW days. American has also reinstated a nonstop service to Lima, Peru from DFW. The sole Latin American market that has been dropped from DFW’s roster of nonstop markets is Caracas due to political and financial turmoil in Venezuela.

JAL opts for an early morning arival and departure from DFW

Japan Airlines’ DFW services will depart Tokyo mid-morning and arrive into DFW early morning the same day. Outbound return services will leave DFW around noon and arrive into Narita the following afternoon.

JL012 NRT1120 - 0905DFW 788 D
JL011 DFW1245 - 1615+1NRT 788 D

JAL operated similar schedules into DFW back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with slightly later departure and arrival times into DFW. American’s daily service into Tokyo also adheres to similar times as it did back when it competed alongside JAL during that same era. Although technically both forces were competitors at that juncture, the limited-agreement partnership between the two carriers was viewed more from a cooperation, rather than purely competitive, standpoint.

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