American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines formally launched bids Monday to wrest control of a key slot in Tokyo's Haneda Airport from Delta Air Lines as part of a fight among the carriers to stake out a greater presence in Asia.
The two airlines have lobbied the US Department of Transportation for months to rescind Delta's right to land at the airport in one of four daily times, or slots, allotted to US carriers by an international agreement between the United States and Japan. Last month, the regulator agreed to review the situation, specifying Jan. 5 as the deadline for carriers to bid formally for the slot.
Monday's applications by American and Hawaiian reflect the larger battle taking place for service to Asia. If either wins the slot, competition would increase over US travelers to the region, where Delta and United Airlines are currently the leading US carriers.
American and Hawaiian allege that the incumbent, which won the right to fly from Seattle to Haneda in 2013, has underused the slot, planning limited winter service barely enough to prevent the slot from reverting to the regulator.
They say they would serve Haneda more frequently than Delta and give US travelers more options, with American vying to fly from Los Angeles and Hawaiian petitioning to fly from Kona International Airport in Hawaii.
Delta earlier responded to the campaign by asking the Department of Transportation on Dec. 22 to drop its review. The petition said Delta is in "full compliance" with the conditions of the slot order, adding that the regulator gave it the slot"indefinitely" under those terms without specifying that it could revoke the grant if it so chose.
In a testimony included with American's application, its Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Nocella wrote, "Addressing the lack of any American service at all to Haneda is critical to American's Asia presence, enhancing our network to be competitive with United and Delta, and giving the traveling public meaningful choices." "Gaining access to Haneda heads the list of American's top international priorities," he added.
The other three slots to Haneda, which is closer to Tokyo but has less foreign traffic than Narita International Airport, are operated by United Airlines from San Francisco, Hawaiian from Honolulu and Delta from Los Angeles.
Hawaiian said in a Monday release that its Honolulu service has been "by far the most ... successful" of these routes and added that Kona is a top destination for Japanese travelers.
It was not immediately clear by which date the Department of Transportation intends to issue its decision.