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International Service at Sky Harbor: What’s Next?

International Service at Sky Harbor: What’s Next?

I’ve said for years that there’s not enough international service at Sky Harbor in Phoenix. The city’s only intercontinental route in recent years was a British Airways flight to London. Then we had a nice sign of progress when Condor Airlines re-connected Phoenix to Germany.

Condor Airlines international service at Sky Harbor, D-ABUA, Boeing 767-330 ER (20164426748)
Condor Airlines re-made the link from Phoenix to Frankfurt last year – and it seems to be a great success.
And British Airways added three more flights to London each week. Then American Airlines announced it would start seasonal service to London in 2019. Oh, and Condor increased its seasonal service! This is all good news, and less gloomy than I anticipated when US Airways merged with American Airlines; the proximity of the Los Angeles hub caused worries that Phoenix would be de-hubbed. Really, that’s a legitimate concern.

Still, international service at Sky Harbor is heading in the right direction. The increase in service brings up a few questions:

    • Fuel-efficient aircraft like the Boeing 787 were supposed to break the hub-and-spoke model. The Dreamliner can connect cities on “long, thin routes.” That situation seems to fit Phoenix, but we don’t have any scheduled service from the 787 or its Airbus counterpart, the A350. Are we then stuck with the hub-and-spoke model?
    • Airline wonks insist that Phoenix needs more big businesses headquartered here to make links with major cities abroad worthwhile. That’s true; tourism just can’t make a route succeed on its own. How will that drive intercontinental service at Sky Harbor?
Vietnam Airlines, international service at Sky Harbor Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, VN-A861
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was supposed to break the hub-and-spoke system. (In Ron Howard’s voice) It hasn’t. But could it connect Phoenix to Asia nonstop for the first time with Vietnam Airlines?
  • Is Phoenix Sky Harbor on the radar of upstarts like Norwegian Air Shuttle? I know they’ve ditched some of their routes to the U.S. lately, but those were 737 routes from Europe to the Northeastern U.S. And there might be more new airlines out there looking for a place to stick their foot in the door.  
  • What about Asia? Clearly, Europe works for Phoenix Sky Harbor. I haven’t seen any breakdown about what drives that success: leisure or business. If it’s leisure, are Germany and England just in our leisure travelers’ comfort zone? Is there data that suggest Asia wouldn’t work? Some might say we’re too close to Los Angeles and San Francisco … and maybe even San Diego and San Jose. But think of this: Weather delays in Arizona are rare, and many travelers would love to avoid LAX and SFO if they could. Those could be major selling points for international service at Sky Harbor. Just as a crazy idea, I’d lobby Vietnam Airlines hard. They’ll soon begin flights to the U.S., and I haven’t seen any final decisions on destinations in the U.S. What could we offer? 
  • There’s a good amount of renovation happening at Sky Harbor. How much of it involves preparing the airport for future intercontinental flights? What’s the airport’s current capacity to connect with destinations abroad?

British Airways added three 747’s worth of flights to London. Then there’s American Airlines jumping into the route with a 777. Condor added flights. Something is working. I’d love to know what’s behind their decisions, and how that can result in more international service at Sky Harbor.

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