With Sun Country ending service at Lansing, that means the end of non-stop service from Michigan’s capital to Washington National airport and indeed the end of non-stop service to the DC area and even the Northeast.
National airport is slot controlled, but Sun Country had an ‘exemption’ from slots for their flights rather than having their own slots. American Airlines is petitioning the FAA for a slot exemption so it can serve this market in Sun Country’s place, arguing that it’s an important market to preserve service in.
They propose American Eagle Bombardier CRJ-700 service:
- Lansing – Washington National, 710am – 855am
Washington National – Lansing, 530pm – 720pm
(American seems to specialize in one flight a day from smaller markets departing in the morning and returning in the evening, that seems to be their entire domestic New York strategy for instance.)
American Airlines is the dominant carrier at National airport and could use its existing slots to serve the Lansing market (in lieu of other flights it currently operates). So it doesn’t need slot exemptions to operate the route per se. Although the opportunity cost of other flights may or may not make it uneconomical to serve Lansing. The only way for anyone other than American to know this would be to deny the exemption and see if American inaugurates service anyway.
When the federal government demanded that American divest itself of some of its slots at Washington National (basically not allowing the combined American and US Airways to grow larger than US Airways had been at the airport) as a condition for settling the suit against the merger, American warned that it would mean a reduction in service to small communities. That’s exactly what happened. They didn’t eliminate flights to Chicago, Dallas, Miami, or Los Angeles. Instead they eliminated service to Augusta; Fayetteville; Fort Walton Beach; Jacksonville North Carolina; Little Rock; Myrtle Beach; Omaha; Pensacola; Savannah; Tallahassee; and Wilmington North Carolina.
Lansing’s problem isn’t just that it’s a small city. American’s regulatory filing emphasizes just how important a city it is, not just because it’s Michigan’s state capitol but also because of the major corporations headquartered here (which almost wants to make me oppose Washington DC service — keep those companies away from Washington DC politicians and make it more cumbersome to seek handouts!).
Instead, Lansing’s problem is that it’s… close to Detroit. Only about 75 miles by air, it’s an hour and a half’s drive. So whereas American emphasizes the importance of a connection to an East Coast hub with connections up and down the Eastern seaboard, the airport has Chicago flights now which allow connections most anywhere. And yet American emphasizes that people choose to drive instead of flying. Contra American it’s unclear why that would change.
If Lansing is such an important market to connect to Washington, any airline can either use existing slots at National to do so or operate the flight to Washington Dulles (where United has a substantial connecting network).
In case you’re curious here’s American’s filing with the FAA (.pdf). This surprises me somewhat since the Department of Transportation administers slots beyond National Airport’s 1250 mile perimeter (the distance of non-stop flights from the airport is limited except for a handful of specific routes the DOT has awarded) so assumed that slot exemptions would have been DOT issues as well.