US major Delta Air Lines has been granted provisional rights to launch a new daytime service between Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport and Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport. The recommendation from the US Department of Transport (DOT) this week marks the planned allocation of the last of the five new daytime slots available for US carriers to serve the airport, which is a more convenient access point for the Japanese capital.
Delegations representing the governments of the United States and Japan announced in Tokyo in February 2016 that they had successfully negotiated an amendment to their Open Skies agreement. The proposed amendment is significant as it provides for the first time since 1978 daytime services by US and Japanese air carriers between the United States and Tokyo International Airport (Haneda), the busiest in Japan and the closest to downtown Tokyo.
The newly available daytime slots at Haneda herald a potential transformation in US air service to the Japanese capital and the regulator has taken a completely fresh perspective over the allocation of new route licences, starting with a blank canvas so it can look at all options and explore opportunities for alternative US cities that are capable of supporting commercially viable service to Tokyo.
The agreement makes slots available for scheduled combination service by the designated airlines of each country to a total of five pairs of slots during daytime hours between 06:00 and 22:55 hours (local time) and one pair of slots during late night and early morning hours between 22:00 and 06:55 hours (local time). These slots cannot be used for all-cargo service and airlines may operate no more than 600 one-way charter flights per year.
Under the previous agreement, US airlines had a total of four slot pairs (four arrivals and four departures) for service to and from Haneda, which are now restricted to use during nighttime hours. Under the proposed amendment, these four slot pairs have been transferred to daytime hours and will be used by American Airlines and Delta to and from Los Angeles, United Airlines to and from San Francisco and Hawaiian Airlines to and from Honolulu.
The US airlines are permitted to continue operating one nighttime slot pair, while the DOT has also ruled that Hawaiian should be permitted to fly to Haneda from Kona using one of these nightime slots after it made a new application for such rights.
“The availability of daytime access to Tokyo’s centrally located Haneda Airport will create more choice and convenience for both business and leisure travellers, and advances the Department’s work to increase competition and bring enhanced service options to the marketplace,” said US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx.
The additional, fifth daytime slot pair for scheduled service to and from Haneda had the potential to introduce new Tokyo connectivity from a number of points across the US. Alongside the selected Delta offer from Minneapolis-St Paul, these included another Delta proposition from Atlanta, American Airlines from Dallas and United Airlines from Newark.
In choosing the proposed finalists, the DOT said it had sought to maximise public benefits based on the carriers that offered and could maintain the best ongoing service between the US and Tokyo. In its preliminary ruling it highlighted the “importance of a Northern/Midwestern hub with a substantial catchment area for central and eastern US passengers that could benefit from Haneda service”. This had been part of the criteria for historically awarding Delta the rights to introduce nightime service between Detroit and Haneda, a route that was later dropped due to the limitations the operational restrictions placed on the development of the route.
The DOT said the experience had “not undermined” the Department’s original public interest assessment favouring the selection of a northern Midwestern hub to Haneda, rather, that it provided a basis for “a reasoned assessment” that the new daytime slots could deliver to such an operation.
“The Department tentatively believes that, in light of the new more favorable operating conditions at Haneda, Delta’s Minneapolis service proposal provides an ideal opportunity to again address the Department’s goal of providing Haneda access from a Northern/Midwestern hub city with a substantial catchment area in the Midwestern and Eastern United States,” said the DOT in its preliminary allocation.
However, the DOT has provided American Airlines’ planned Dallas Fort Worth service with back-up authority given Delta’s history with its Japanese route licences due to the “positive elements” within the proposal. The regulator had previously reallocated a Delta slot pair to American after the airline failed to adhere to the stringent operational standards as part of the licence award. This substitute authority is subject to the standard 90-day dormancy rules, from the DOT.
The DOT noted that the Dallas selection would provide geographic diversity in an underserved area of the country in terms of Haneda flights and would provide substantial connecting service options via the US city to Tokyo. “Dallas is the home to many companies that conduct business with Japan, including a fresh wave of Japanese companies that have invested heavily in the area, signifying a strong growing market for Tokyo service,” it said.