Delta Set to Battle United for New Flights at Tokyo’s Haneda

Delta Air Lines Inc., the only major U.S. carrier without a Japanese partner, is pushing for more landing slots at Haneda airport near central Tokyo as United Continental Holdings Inc. seeks its first foothold there.

The two are among airlines vying for about 40 new daytime landing slots that Japan’s transport ministry is negotiating to divide between domestic and international carriers.

Delta has said it wants 25 slot pairs so it can return most of its flights to Haneda after having to shift to Tokyo’s more-distant Narita airport in 1978 to ease overcrowding. Haneda, which opened a new international terminal three years ago, is favored by business travelers who will pay a premium to land near the middle of the city.

“Access to those slots is considered very important by the U.S. carriers,” said Peter Harbison, executive chairman at Sydney-based CAPA Centre for Aviation. “It creates the obvious competitive advantages being close to the city and having desirable arrival and departure times. Delta feels entitled to slots.”

Japan Airlines Co. and ANA Holdings Inc. also are competing for the new Haneda slots that Akihiro Ohta, Japan’s transport minister, has said would allow flights starting in March.

United, which has teamed up with ANA, is seeking its first slot on its own while AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, a partner with Japan Airlines, is seeking a better flight time for its existing New York-Tokyo round trip. Both United and American benefit from flight slots held by their Japanese partners.

In a 2010 round of slot awards, Delta won two nighttime flights to Haneda, while American and Hawaiian Holdings Inc. each got one. United didn’t receive any.

‘Piecemeal Offers’

The ability of U.S. carriers to win slots at Haneda is hampered by Japanese government favoritism toward domestic carriers, Delta Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson said at a press conference in Tokyo on July 31.

“The U.S. should reject these unsatisfactory and piecemeal offers -- and permit no changes until Japan is ready to fully open Haneda and allow Delta to move its hub,” Anthony Black, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based carrier, said in an e-mail.

The allocation of daytime slots may also prove more competitive than the nighttime rights three years ago, because the flight times are more attractive to U.S. carriers.

‘Operational Restrictions’

“American has consistently raised concerns about the operational restrictions under which we fly between John F. Kennedy and Haneda, and that remains our focus,” said Mary Frances Fagan, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier.

American’s one flight between Haneda and New York, which leaves Tokyo at 6:55 a.m., isn’t attractive to business travelers, she said.

United wants to fly between Haneda and San Francisco, a route that “would clearly provide the greatest level of consumer benefit of any service between Haneda and the United States,” Rahsaan Johnson, a spokesman for the Chicago-based airline, said on Sept. 25. “United has more flights out of San Francisco than any other airline’s western hub.”

ANA, Japan’s largest airline, is vying for a lion’s share of the roughly 20 new international slots to be distributed among local carriers, saying government support of Japan Airlines’ financial restructuring tipped the balance in favor of its rival.

“We can’t catch up with Japan Airlines’ finances and profitability by ourselves after the support it had under restructuring,” ANA President Shinichiro Ito said in an interview. “One of the few ways the government could help correct that imbalance would be to give priority over the new slots to us.”

‘Divided Equally’

Japan Airlines, the only other local airline that flies overseas from Haneda, was relisted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange last year after it wiped out shareholders and debts during bankruptcy as it was supported by 350 billion yen ($3.6 billion) of government-backed financing.

“The slots are the property of the nation’s citizens,” JAL President Yoshiharu Ueki said in an interview last month. “They should be divided equally.”

Japan has been gradually increasing landing and takeoff slots at Haneda since the opening of a new runway in 2010. It will add 30,000 international slots in the year ending March 31, bringing the total to 447,000 annually, according to the transport ministry.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.