Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are both eager to land more flights at Tokyo Haneda airport when the Japanese government opens the airport to more international service in 2020.
While the number of frequencies has yet to be determined, daytime slots that are evenly split between Japanese and US carriers are expected, airline executives told FlightGlobal at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver this week.
"The next round of slots in Haneda will be in 2020," said Joe Esposito, senior vice-president of network planning at Delta, at the conference. "We'll be pursuing more Haneda slots as that becomes really the airport of preference for Tokyo."
Air service to Tokyo from the USA is split between Haneda and Narita airports, with the former limited to 12 daily flights evenly divided between Japanese and US carriers. All Nippon Airways (ANA) has four flights; Delta, Hawaiian Airlines and Japan Airlines two flights each; and American Airlines and United one flight each.
The frequencies, including five daytime slot pairs and one nighttime pair per country, were awarded to carriers by their respective governments in 2016.
"One of the big drivers is the Olympics in 2020, so everything is driving towards that," JAL vice-president of global sales Steve Smith tells FlightGlobal on the next round of liberalisation.
The Japanese government plans to release roughly 39,000 additional Haneda frequencies for international flights ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he explains. This is part of an effort to boost the number of visitors to the country above 40 million annually.
What airlines do not know is how many of the frequencies will be allocated to the Japan-US market, says Smith, though JAL will seek a share of the flights available to Japanese carriers.
JAL flies to New York John F Kennedy and San Francisco from Haneda, while its joint venture partner American serves Los Angeles.
Delta maintains its plans to shift its entire Narita network to Haneda, says Esposito. The plan, first outlined by former chief executive Richard Anderson in 2013, involves ending flying into Asia beyond Tokyo and focusing on local traffic between from the USA.
Such a move would require six slot pairs at Haneda to support the SkyTeam Alliance carrier's existing schedule to Atlanta, Detroit, Honolulu, Portland (Oregon) and Seattle Tacoma, FlightGlobal schedules data shows. Service to Manila and Singapore could be suspended in favour of connections over joint venture partner Korean Air's Seoul Incheon hub.
"It's very much on our radar screen and important that we get our fair access into Haneda," said Scott Kirby, president of United, at the Boyd conference.
United is the largest US carrier at Narita up to 12 daily flights, and serves San Francisco with its sole Haneda frequency.
However, United's joint venture partner ANA expands its Haneda network to six US destinations, including Chicago O'Hare, Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York JFK.