North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker traveled to Japan in September in an effort to attract Japanese automotive companies to open a manufacturing plant in her state. North Carolina has received $982 million in investments from Japan since 2010, and seen over 3,000 new jobs created from those projects, but has been unable to attract a car production plant. During her trip, Decker learned that major automotive companies prefer US locations with direct flights to Tokyo.
In May, Toyota chose Dallas, Texas over Charlotte, North Carolina for a new plant. Along with factors such as tax incentives, Toyota cited the direct flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Tokyo as a factor in their final decision. A direct flight makes the trip from Texas to Japan only 12 hours, compared to a minimum of 18 hours to Charlotte, NC, with a higher ticket price and multiple layovers.
Today, 18 cities in the United States have direct flights to Asia, representing only 16 states. The top five gateway cities for Asian travel to US are Honolulu, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. States such as North Carolina are seeking to open direct flights in hopes of creating jobs and growing their economies. Texas has benefited from recently added flights to Seoul earlier this year, and plans to add a flight to Beijing. The new flight routes would give Texas direct access to five major cities in Asia.
Phoenix, Arizona has recognized the benefits reaped by cities like Houston, and has been in conversation with several major airlines about expanding their international service. In 2011, international flights brought $3 billion into the economy of the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area. Those flights also supported 15,080 jobs in the Greater Phoenix area, making it clear why they wish to expand. However, airlines have yet to see that passenger demand is high enough to make the commitment to new Asian routes. This makes it harder for cities looking to attract foreign investment, as they seem less attractive to overseas companies, though increased numbers of passengers are likely to come hand-in-hand with new investments.
Airlines’ willingness is not the only obstacle to new flight routes, as all routes must be approved by the FAA. When California Pacific applied for FAA permits in 2009, they submitted 32 manuals with 40,000 pages detailing flight plans but did not hear back from the FAA until 2012. When airlines apply for international flights, the governments of both countries must approve.
Despite these difficulties, the number of direct flight to Asia has continued to grow, bringing jobs, tourism, and investment in both directions.
Ethan Kannel is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a junior at Cornell University