United States DOT Outlines Service Requirements For Funding

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has outlined the minimum service levels airlines need to maintain in order to access government funding. The DOT is largely relying on the mandates it previously required, though this time the DOT is expected to be less lenient with service requirements as air traffic has begun to recover.

Trump says he wants aid for airlines
US airlines will once again need to comply with DOT service obligations. Photo: Getty Images

DOT outlines minimum levels of service

The United States DOT previously required airlines to choose their summer 2019 baseline schedule or winter 2020 baseline schedule for requirements for service. Given how this round of funding expires at the end of March, the DOT requires airlines to use their winter schedules and provide service to winter-seasonal markets as mandated to access funding.

The DOT will allow airlines to consolidate services in certain markets, though it will make a modification this time around. The DOT has proposed that carriers currently serving multiple airports in a metro area continue to provide service at each of those airports.

Sun Country Boeing 737
Low-cost carriers, such as Sun Country, received exemptions the last time around. Photo: Getty Images

Given that demand, which was down about 96% year-over-year when the DOT first started to mandate minimum services, is now at 60% year-over-year in October of 2020, the DOT believes that most carriers are already satisfying service obligations.

The minimum service levels are based on the airline’s market share. Carriers with a greater than 10% share of the total industry domestic capacity in 2019 that served an airport over 25 times per week need to provide service at least five times per week. For cities served between five and 25 times per week, airlines need to provide at least three weekly flights. For points served fewer than five times a week, airlines need to provide at least one weekly flight.

United and Spirit Getty
Depending on an airline’s market share, they will need to serve certain points with minimum amounts of service. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines that make up less than 10% of industry capacity in the US would need to provide service thrice a week to points they served five or more times per week. For cities served fewer than five times per week, airlines need to fly at least once per week.

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What happened to cities that lost all service?

If an airport has lost all scheduled service since September 30th, including several regional destinations, the DOT is taking the following stance.

The DOT will allow cities to petition the DOT for the restoration of services from the airline. The following airports are of importance here:

  • Destin, FL
  • Morrisville, VT
  • Worcester, MA
  • Meyers Chuck, AK

These cities lost all scheduled services since the end of the DOT-mandated service requirements from September 30th. However, those airports will need to petition with extensive justification over the need for a return of service.

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At these airports, do not expect airlines that have to come back to bring their large jets. Photo: Getty Images

Do not expect a lot of exemptions

The DOT was quite clear. First, airlines are already operating plenty of services as demand has recovered. Second, the order is only in effect for a few months. So, the DOT expects to grant few exemptions. The last time around, the DOT spent months trying to work out service exemptions before granting airlines some more leeway.

The situations in which an exemption would make sense include where governments have requested lower services or where airports have done so.

In 2020, when the industry had to comply with these regulations, many started to operate triangle flights due to a lack of demand and the necessity for government funding. This year, there may be a few months of airlines running such services, but it will likely be to a minimum, as carriers are dealing with a much better demand environment today than they were several months ago.

Alaska Airlines
Most airlines are already complying with service obligations. Photo: Getty Images

Even with the new administration set to take over from January 20th, these minimum service mandates will likely stay. The DOT’s mission, which stays the same from one administration to the next, is to facilitate transportation across the United States. Air carriers are one important aspect of that, and the new administration will likely want to keep up mandating services.

Can airlines add new services?

Yes. The DOT cares more about ensuring airlines offer adequate services. If an airline wants to fly more than it needs to or plans to add new cities to its network, the DOT has no issues with this. Carriers are also more than welcome to offer more service than necessary to cities.

Southwest Airlines
Southwest is one airline that is adding new flights in 2021. Photo: Getty Images

Many airlines, in fact, have plenty of plans to add new routes in 2021. This includes both domestic and long-haul international itineraries.

Are you glad to see the DOT once again mandate services? Let us know in the comments!