Sweet dreams for LAX*; A380 and Emirates both make first appearance at airport as major development plans are revealed

Image: John Travolta and Olivia Newton John disembarking Qantas flight
Qantas became the first airline to operate commercial A380 flights between Australia and the US West Coast when the inaugural Melbourne-Los Angeles service landed on 20 October. It was given a red carpet welcome and was greeted by Olivia Newton-John and Qantas Ambassador-at-large John Travolta.

Los Angeles airport, better known to the world simply by its three-letter code ‘LAX’, recently celebrated a couple of major milestones. On 20 October a Qantas flight from Melbourne became the first A380 to land at the airport and was welcomed by the legendary stars of the movie Grease, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Qantas carried 1.25 million passengers through LAX in 2007 ranking it the 10th busiest airline at the airport. The following week Emirates began its first non-stop flights to Dubai, an event that was supposed to have happened in September but had been delayed due to aircraft delivery problems caused by the Boeing strike.

Image: Dubai to Los Angeles route launch
Adnan Kazim, Emirates’ Senior Vice President Commercial Operations – Gulf, Middle East & Iran, welcomed passengers and flagged off Emirates’ inaugural flight from Dubai to Los Angeles at the new Emirates Terminal 3 on 26 October. The service is the first direct connection between Dubai and Los Angeles.

World’s largest O&D airport

Although ranked only fifth in terms of total passenger traffic (after Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, London Heathrow and Tokyo Haneda) LAX claims to have more passengers start or end their journey at their airport than any other airport in the world, as each of the other four is a major connecting hub for passengers.

Chart: LAX Traffic 1993 - 2007
Source: LAWA

Annual traffic at the airport peaked in 2000 at 67.3 million. Post ‘9/11′ traffic has stabilized at just over 60 million annual passengers. So far in 2008, along with many other major US airports, traffic is down, in this case by around 2.1%. According to OAG data total seat capacity at LAX is down around 13% this winter though aircraft movements are down over 19% as a result of the average aircraft size increasing from 131 seats to 141 seats. This suggests that many of the service cuts have come on routes operated by smaller aircraft.

Chart: LAX airport seasonality
Source: LAWA

The airport’s seasonality profile has remained consistent in recent years with traffic peaking in July and dipping in February and September.

American, United and Southwest battle for dominance

In 2007 American overtook United for the first time to be the leading airline at LAX although if flights operated by SkyWest on behalf of United Express are included then United remains the busiest carrier at the airport. Unlike just about every other major US airport no single airline has more than a 20% share of passengers.

Chart: Top 10 airlines at LAX
Source: LAWA

According to the latest OAG schedule data for November there is now little to choose between American, Southwest and United in terms of weekly seat capacity, although United has by far the most flights. Newcomer Virgin America has broken into the top 10 thanks to its four routes to New York JFK, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington Dulles.

A total of 52 airlines currently operate scheduled services to and from LAX including many foreign airlines. European airlines include Aeroflot, Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss and Virgin Atlantic, while Asia-Pacific airlines Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, JAL, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways are also present. From neighbouring Canada and Mexico, Air Canada, WestJet, Aeromexico and Mexicana all provide services.

One airline whose arrival has been delayed is V Australia, the new long-haul operation from Virgin Blue in Australia. New routes to Brisbane and Sydney are now scheduled to start next March after aircraft delivery problems forced the airline to delay its maiden flights.

San Francisco remains top route

Analysis of the top 12 routes from LAX reveals that most routes are keenly contested by a number of carriers. The obvious exceptions are Oakland, where Southwest has a monopoly, and Dallas/Fort Worth where American is dominant.

Chart: Top 12 routes from LAX
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 17 November 2008

Each of the top four busiest routes is served by at least four major airlines. Tokyo Narita, the only international destination in the top 10 is served by no less than seven airlines each with a daily service. Those airlines are ANA, American, JAL, Korean Air, Northwest, Singapore Airlines and United.

* “Sweet dreams my L.A. ex” was a UK number 2 hit single for Rachel Stevens (the former singer with S Club 7) in September 2003.

Image: Artist impression of LAX
This week Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled plans for major improvements to LAX. The estimated $6 billion plan includes improvements to Bradley International Terminal and a people-mover system around the airport.

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