October 11, 2008

Air France Cuts Service From LAX

By Art Marroquin

After less than eight months of service, Air France will drop its daily flights between Los Angeles International Airport and London Heathrow beginning Nov. 6, citing "the present economic and financial crisis."

Air France launched service from LAX to London on March 30, the same day that the open skies agreement went into effect, allowing for increased competition between airlines in the United States and Europe.

The move resulted in a 20percent drop in fares, but demand was not as high as the airline had anticipated.

Rather than stay in Los Angeles, Air France plans to add a third daily flight next summer between London and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"What this shows is that the open skies agreement isn't the big deal the people made it out to be," said aviation consultant Michael Boyd of Evergreen, Colo.

"People who live in the United Kingdom do not want to fly on a plane operated by another country just to visit the United States, so it was a doomed route to begin with."

The loss of Air France comes as domestic and international air carriers continue to slash flights across the country, with LAX being among the hardest-hit major airports.

LAX is projected to lose nearly 2,300 departing and arriving flights in November, a 19.5percent drop in operations compared with the same period last year, according to figures posted Friday by Innovata, an airline database in Atlanta.

Additionally, LAX will lose 197,574 round-trip seats in November, a 12.86 percent drop from last year, according to Innovata's projections.

"That's pretty much what we've anticipated," said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX.

"The air carriers are having a hard time affording fuel prices, so they're leaving the market until the demand meets or exceeds capacity," she said.

"I don't know when they'll reach that equilibrium, but it's pretty hard to predict anything these days."

The cuts at LAX are considerably deeper than at other so-called "international gateway" airports, and more than double the 84,982 combined loss of seats at airports in San Francisco, Miami and New York.

Flight operations will be down only 5 percent next month at San Francisco International Airport, while the number of available seats will drop 6 percent, compared to a year earlier, according to Innovata's figures.

New York's JFK will see a 3.2percent loss of flights and a 4.2 percent drop in available seats in November. At Miami International Airport, flights will be down 2.7 percent, but the number of available seats will actually increase 2.3 percent.

The loss of flights comes at a time when LAX is attempting to undergo a massive $10 billion capital improvement project that calls for upgrading existing terminals and building new airline gates on the back of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Airports in Las Vegas, Oakland and Orlando have already scaled back or postponed their capital improvement projects this year amid the slumping economy and reduced demand for air travel.

Officials with LAX, however, said they intend to press forward.

"It will have to be more gradual; it won't be as dramatic as we had hoped," said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX.

"It's not fair that LAX hasn't been fixed up since 1984, and it needs to be brought into the 21st century. If we have to slow down, then so be it, but we won't completely stop."

[email protected], 310-543-6674

(c) 2008 Press-Telegram Long Beach, CA.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.