Mainline carriers are once again posturing against one another for a slot pair at Tokyo's close-in Haneda airport from the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The one-upmanship brings back memories of the battle for the four available pairs back in 2010 and for the then limited US-China route authorities three years earlier.
Delta Air Lines uses the available pair for its Detroit to Haneda flight but wants to switch the US gateway on the route to Seattle. American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines claim that it cannot because the slots were awarded for only that specific route.
Each carrier has a proposal for the slots. American wants to fly to Haneda from Los Angeles, Hawaiian from Kona and United from San Francisco.
Haneda is attractive because it is only about 14km from Tokyo Station in the city centre versus about 57km to Japanese capital's primary international airport Narita. While the available slot pair is not ideal for connections at Haneda - flights arrive and depart either late at night or early in the morning - the airport is more attractive to originating and departing Tokyo traffic, which makes the available slots extremely popular among airlines.
Reallocating the slot pair makes sense.
The DOT cited that Detroit would provide a "large central and eastern US catchment area with convenient Haneda service through a proven US-Asia hub", in its final decision in July 2010. It said that the city provided the largest "behind-gateway" catchment area of the proposals at the time.
Delta and its partner Alaska Airlines offer significantly fewer connections at Seattle than Detroit, especially from the central and eastern portion of the USA. However, neither do the other airlines' proposals. The DOT will need to decide whether it still wants the slot pair to serve the largest number of connecting passengers or to target originating and departing traffic, as it evaluates the four routes on the table.
The DOT will award the Haneda slots to the route that best serves the "public interest", according to a filing on 17 August.
American says that it needs the slot pair to compete with the Star Alliance's All Nippon Airways (joint venture partner with United) and Delta between Los Angeles and Haneda. Hawaiian says that it needs the pair to open up Kona, which currently has no nonstop to Japan, to Japanese tourists. While United says that it is at a competitive disadvantage with no access to Haneda and can offer the most connections on the west coast through its San Francisco hub.
One thing the DOT did not clarify is what will happen if Delta decides to retain the Detroit gateway. The airline may prefer to do this instead of give up the coveted slot pair if the decision does not go its way.
Delta may very well have the best proposal but the DOT's competition is the only way to determine that. Each airline's proposal must receive its fair due before the route can be awarded.
May the best airline win.