Delta Air Objects to ‘Draconian’ U.S. Terms to Keep Tokyo Route

Delta Air Lines Inc.
Delta Air Lines Inc. airplanes sit parked at gates of Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

After beating American Airlines for the right to keep flying to Tokyo’s close-in airport, Delta Air Lines is objecting to the proposed U.S. terms to do so.

The Transportation Department wants to set a “draconian” standard in insisting that a flight between Seattle and Haneda airport operate every day, Delta said in a filing. Failing to do so could mean ceding Haneda access to American, Delta said.

“At the most basic level, the proposed condition deviates from past practice because, as far as Delta is aware, the department has never previously imposed such a strict 365-day-a-year service requirement,” Delta Associate General Counsel Alexander Van der Bellen wrote in the April 6-dated filing.

The document adds to the spat between American and Delta over the limited flying rights to Haneda, which is generally preferred by business fliers over Narita International Airport. Last month, the department let Delta retain its Haneda business after American tried to wrest away that access so it could start service from Los Angeles.

American, the world’s biggest airline, and No. 3 Delta are fighting over Haneda because U.S. carriers have only four so-called flight slots at the airport, which is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from downtown Tokyo. Narita is about 64 kilometers away.

Haneda Argument

United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines each hold one Haneda flight slot, and Delta has two. American argued that Delta had let its Seattle flight to go dormant in recent months and should be stripped of its route authority.

A call and e-mail message requesting comment from the Transportation Department in Washington weren’t immediately returned.

In its filing, Delta doesn’t say it will ignore the proposed 365-day requirement. It said compliance would be difficult, partly because of potential mechanical or weather difficulties. Atlanta-based Delta said it wouldn’t want to invest in the route because access to Haneda would be in “perpetual jeopardy.”

“Any two days of non-service in a seven-day period would summarily strip Delta of slot authority,” Delta said. “Faced with that exacting threat, the condition would create improper incentives to maintain scheduled service at all costs, when flights might otherwise be canceled, delayed, or rescheduled out of safety or other operational concerns.”

In its own filing on April 6, American urged the Transportation Department to enforce its year-round requirement.

“Undoubtedly, Delta will request the department eliminate or reduce these necessary safeguards on its use of the Seattle-Haneda slot pair,” Fort Worth, Texas-based American wrote. “The more Delta protests these safeguards, the more skeptical the department should be of Delta’s willingness to abide by its daily year-round service commitment.”

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