Analysis: Frequent travellers to the USA will be interested to hear what American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey has to say about his airline's thoughts on the Australian market, including possible plans to fly to Australia, and updating the AA fleet.
Arpey, speaking to Executive Road Warrior, let slip several important pieces of information for Australian business travellers.
American thinking about flights to Australia
It's fairly clear to industry observers that Boeing has given American some cheap deals on 777s to make up for the delays to the 787 Dreamliner program.
American dropped some serious hints that American has aspirations for the very lucrative trans-Pacific route in the interview, saying: "we did just apply for the Joint Business Agreement with Qantas and they started flying into and out of DFW, which is great for both of us. We may want to put our ducks in Australia with the Qantas guys, but [the 777-300ER] certainly could do that route."
(Australian Business Traveller first reported that American's new 777-300ER aircraft had the capacity for Los Angeles-Sydney flights in January.)
When talking about delivery dates for the 777-300ER, American spokesman Tim Smith was very clear about the timeline: "All 8 are set for 2012 and 2013."
And there could be more to come: "We still have seven 777-200 deliveries for 2013 through 2016 that are on the books. Now, whether those might be changed to 300s, I don’t know," Smith hedged.
American could even be planning a Qantas-busting new first class product on flights to Australia. When asked about whether the existing American Flagship Suite first class seat will be put on the 777-300ER, American said: "We haven’t decided for sure how we’re going to configure that [aircraft]."
Since Qantas has eschewed the 777-300ER and is using its 747-400ER planes -- which have diverted twice to refuel just this week -- instead, is American losing patience with Qantas' trans-Pacific problems?
New aircraft: what does it mean for Australian connections?
Australians will be affected by the aircraft purchase as older planes are replaced with newer ones. The first set to go are clearly the old McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 fleet, which are ancient in aircraft terms.
But American's Tim Smith also mentions retiring the Boeing 767-200 domestic fleet. Those are the planes that American flies between New York JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco with better seats and service as part of its "Flagship" transcontinental service.
American clearly hasn't made its mind up on the planes that will replace the 767-200s.
"We’re not saying that we’re going to fly a bunch of 737s or Airbus A321s on the transcons. We’re just saying it opens some new possibilities for those aircraft," Smith says, cagily, especially when probed on whether American's much-delayed Boeing 787 fleet will be deployed on those flights.
Qantas: not on American's radar?
An interesting aside from the interview is that American doesn't seem to see the Red Roo as a key part of "the best network for premium traffic", despite applying for a trans-Pacific joint venture with Qantas.
Arpey cited British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific as parts of that network, yet pointedly failed to list Qantas.
That's an interesting omission, considering that Qantas is not only a founding member of oneworld but has been closely involved with American, especially in the high-profile shift of QF's Sydney flights from San Francisco to American's mega-hub in Dallas with the goal of feeding Qantas passengers into AA's domestic US network.
The airlines' membership of the oneworld alliance doesn't necessarily signify a meeting of minds between the two airlines either. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and Qantas have famously not seen eye to eye in recent memory, with Qantas' decision to skip Cathay's Hong Kong base (the natural oneworld stopover location for Kangaroo Route flights to Europe) in favour of the existing Qantas-British Airways joint venture via Singapore.
Arpey could have some advice to offer Qantas CEO Alan Joyce with regards to Jetstar and its increasing role in the Qantas family -- to the point where it seems that Jetstar could morph into "Qantas Lite".
From the perspective of the US airline industry, low-cost carriers affiliated with legacy airlines just don't work.
Delta Air Lines attempted a low-cost move with Song, moving 48 of its Boeing 757 planes into a subsidiary with a low-cost model to try to compete with new airlines like JetBlue. Song only lasted three years, from 2003 to 2006.
Similarly, United Airlines tried a low-cost subsidiary called Ted between 2004 and 2009. It failed, and its nearly 60 Airbus planes were folded back into the United fleet.
An earlier version of this story quoted AA CEO Gerard Arpey regarding American's flights to Australia. To clarify, some of these statements came from AA's official corporate communications spokesman Tim Smith.