Hawaiian, JAL try again to win DOT approval for joint-venture

Nov 13, 2019

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Hawaiian Airlines and Japan Airlines promise to add seats between Hawaii and Japan in a near last-ditch attempt to garner approval for their proposed partnership.

The carriers will grow seats by at least 23% during the first five years of the pact compared to pre-partnership levels if the U.S. Department of Transportation reverses the tentative rejection it issued in October, Hawaiian and JAL said in a joint regulatory filing Wednesday.

Hawaiian and JAL’s planned growth would include more seats between Honolulu and Tokyo, as well as “additional nonstop service to other cities” in Japan from Hawaii. Specifics of their expansion plans were redacted.

“Without [a joint venture], JAL will have an incentive to connect passengers in such cities to Hawaii, keeping them on its own metal the whole way, rather than sell the Hawaiian nonstop,” the carriers said.

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The capacity additions are conditioned on the DOT approving a joint venture between the airlines. The tie-up would allow them to act as essentially a single carrier between Hawaii and much of Asia. It would include joint schedule and route planning, as well as jointly marketing and selling seats on each other’s flights.

The DOT rejected a joint venture between Hawaiian and JAL, claiming that the benefits could be realized with an expanded codeshare partnership. Limited geographic scope and technology integration under the proposed pact were cited among reasons for the decision.

Related: U.S. limits Hawaiian Airlines and JAL’s planned partnership

Both Hawaiian and JAL fly between both of Tokyo’s airports — Haneda (HND) and Narita (NRT) — and Honolulu (HNL), as well as flights between Tokyo and Kona (KOA), according to Cirium schedule data. Hawaiian also connects the HNL to Fukuoka (FUK), Osaka Kansai (KIX) and Sapporo (CTS), and JAL to Nagoya (NGO).

Hawaiian Airlines and JAL's routes between Hawaii and Japan in November 2019. (Image by Cirium)
Hawaiian Airlines and JAL’s routes between Hawaii and Japan in November 2019. (Image by Cirium)

The regions around Hiroshima (HIJ), Nagoya and Sendai (SDJ) are highlighted as among those in Japan where travel options to Hawaii fall short of demand, according to the airlines’ filing.

In response to the DOT, Hawaiian and JAL also expanded the scope of their proposed tie-up to cover all flights between Hawaii and Asia, Hawaii and the South Pacific, as well as between Tokyo and Guam. Only flights between Honolulu and Seoul are excluded.

Related: Hawaiian Airlines wants to be bigger in Japan with JAL partnership

In addition, Hawaiian and JAL are committing to further technology integration. Passenger-friendly improvements include making seat maps available for all fights via either carrier’s platforms, reciprocal recognition of elite frequent flyers, and seamless through check-in across airlines.

“A joint venture involving Hawaiian will not look the same as one involving American, United or Delta,” the carriers said. “The public benefits of [antitrust immunity] that can be realized by the joint venture are no less important than the ones realized by the largest alliances — even if necessarily on a more modest scale.”

The deal would be Hawaiian’s first joint venture, and JAL’s second with a U.S. carrier after American Airlines. The proposed tie-up would exclude traffic between Japan and the mainland U.S., avoiding any overlap with the long-standing American-JAL partnership.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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