HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every U.S. airline currently flying out of Tokyo Haneda airport wants the slots it has now, and then some.
Documents posted by the U.S. Department of Transportation show Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines all want more flights from Haneda than they have now.
There are not enough slots for every carrier to get what it wants, so the lawyers and lobbyists will be busy advancing their own airline's cause by attacking the arguments of the others.
The battle was triggered by an agreement between Tokyo and Washington to move the four existing red-eye slots for U.S. airlines to earlier hours, while adding two other slots.
That makes these slots precious for U.S. carriers, which know that Haneda is closer to downtown Tokyo than Narita, making it more convenient for Tokyo residents, and that Haneda is the main hub for flights within Japan, which makes it more convenient for travelers changing planes.
The deadline for U.S. airlines to send their flight desires passed last week and Monday all their submissions were posted for the public to read.
Hawaiian Airlines, now flying daily Haneda-Honolulu, wants a second slot, and says it would use it to fly a second flight to Honolulu four days a week, and to Kona three days a week.
United Airlines, now flying daily Haneda-San Francisco, wants a second slot to serve the former Continental hub at Newark Liberty.
American Airlines, now flying daily Haneda-Los Angeles, wants a second slot to serve its headquarters hub at Dallas-Ft. Worth.
Delta, now also flying daily Haneda-Los Angeles, wants two more slots, to serve its headquarters hub at Atlanta and its former Northwest hub at Minneapolis.
The battle promises to be bitter. For example, American Airlines' petition makes this accusation: Delta pulled every political string possible in its failed effort to defeat the availability of daytime slots."
The Delta factor
Delta is something of a special case. Unlike the other airlines serving Haneda, it has repeatedly failed to keep its promises in providing service there.
It dropped service to Detroit, then applied for the same slot to serve Seattle, then failed to provide daily service to Seattle, which led DOT to reassign the slot to American Airlines.
Delta is the only carrier supporting the reconsideration of all Haneda slots rather than simply deciding what to do with the new flight opportunities.
While the other carriers say nothing is changing for the existing slots but the departure times, Delta refers to switching redeyes to earlier hours as "different as night and day."
United Airlines, in its own submission, notes that a slot was taken from Delta only when it failed to provide the service it promised.
Delta argued that its demand at Haneda was cyclical, but rival carriers pointed out that actual traffic on the Delta route from Narita showed no sign of cyclical demand.
The fight over refighting the original fight
The decision of the U.S. Department of Transportation, not just to award new flight slots, but to re-evaluate existing slots that will move from red eyes to earlier hours under the new agreement with Japan, drew criticism from Airlines for America, the U.S. airline industry trade group.
David Berg, its general counsel, wrote U.S. Transportation Deputy assistant Secretary Susan McDermott to voice "disappointment" at the reopening of Haneda slots already awarded.
"This action," he said, "is particularly surprising because it was never mentioned as a possibility during the course of the many conversations between U.S. carriers and U.S. government representatives during the recent negotiations with the Government of Japan."
DOT said it was re-evaluating because of "substantially changed circumstances." Berg replied that changing flight hours does not change market factors supporting flights or the government's public interest analysis to choose which airlines get which slots.
"If the department were to reallocate any of the existing route authorities," Berg argued, "that decision would be arbitrary and capricious."