With discussions on arrival and departure slots for international flights at Haneda Airport entering their final stage, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have been locked in a tug-of-war.
Next spring, the number of the slots will increase by an average of 40 a day, half of which are scheduled to be allocated to JAL and ANA. However, the two airlines disagree over the division of the new slots. JAL hopes it will receive the same number of slots as ANA, while ANA is asking the aviation authority to award it slots preferentially.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry plans to decide on the slot allocation by the end of this month, and the decision is likely to draw attention.
In October 2010, the government allowed Haneda Airport to resume regular international flights for the first time in 32 years. Among 32 slots for daytime international flights, arriving at or departing from the airport during the peak time between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., JAL and ANA have been allocated eight slots each while foreign airlines, such as Chinese and South Korean companies, have received 16 slots.
The ministry is set to increase the annual number of slots for daytime flights from about 30,000 to about 60,000 at the end of March.
The expansion is aimed at boosting Tokyo's international competitiveness by beefing up Haneda's functions and tapping demand from tourists and business people as the airport is close to central Tokyo. The ministry projects the number of international passengers using Haneda Airport, which was 7.95 million last fiscal year, to nearly double after the slot capacity is increased.
Japan has already agreed to give nine countries, including Britain, France and Thailand, new slots, while planning to move forward in talks with the United States and other countries.
Average spending per international flight passenger is higher than that of domestic flight passengers. Thus, airline companies are anxious to learn the allocation for international flights.
"Per slot, airlines would see sales and operating profits rise by about ¥10 billion and a little more than ¥1 billion, respectively," a person familiar with the industry said.
However, the ministry has remained noncommittal on the criteria and policy for the slot allocation.
At a press conference Friday, transport minister Akihiro Ota said, "We'll consider what the fair allocation should be based on both history and the current situation."
ANA has insisted the ministry correct the gap between JAL and its rivals caused by the government's bailout of JAL after the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010.
Meanwhile, JAL believes equal slot allocation is reasonable, saying airlines could offer customers better fares through competition on routes. JAL has also argued that this issue should be separated from temporary rehabilitation measures, such as the nine-year exemption of corporate tax, as slot allocations for international routes will be unlikely to change.
When 25 slots for domestic flights were added to the airport in late March this year, JAL was given three slots, five fewer than ANA's eight slots after experts looked into a grading system on operation performances.
Kazuki Sugiura, an aviation analyst and visiting professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, said: "Haneda's slots for international flights are an asset of the people. The transport ministry should make a decision from the standpoint of what kind of slot allocation would result in the best use [of the asset] without benefiting certain parties."