Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The scramble for scarce slots at Tokyo's Haneda airport is on. As discussed previously on the blog, see "DOT to Allocate Scarce Haneda Slots," the Department of Transportation has been authorized under the U.S./Japan open skies Memorandum of Understanding signed last December to allocate four daily takeoff and landing slots at the world's fourth busiest airport. See generally Order Instituting Proceedings, Dkt. No. DOT-OST-2010-0018 (Jan. 26, 2010). Not surprisingly, all four major U.S. carriers--American, Continental, Delta, and United--are vying for one or all of the available slots. Without judging the merits of each applicant's claims, Delta's filing is certainly the most intriguing in light of JAL's recent decision to pursue an immunized alliance with American Airlines rather than join Delta as part of SkyTeam.
According to Delta, JAL, along with fellow Japanese airline and Star Alliance member ANA, "operate 84 percent of scheduled departures and 90 per cent of scheduled seats at Haneda." See Application of Delta Air Lines, Inc., at 2, Dkt. No. DOT-OST-2010-0018 (Feb. 16, 2010). Delta argues in its filing that since it has been effectively locked out of forming an alliance with a major Japanese airline, the only way to establish competitive parity on routes between the U.S. and Haneda is for the DOT to grant Delta all four daily slot offerings. Though Delta does enjoy greater access at Tokyo's other airport, Narita, the carrier believes "that its services at far-distant Narita are not competitive with Haneda for premium business passengers." Id.
It will be interesting to see if the DOT accepts Delta's arguments and awards it all four slots. If it does, the decision could have the effect of bolstering both oneworld and the Star's claims that granting their alliances antitrust immunity won't unduly harm competition in the transpacific market. On the other hand, if the DOT opts not to immunize one or both of the transpacific alliance applications, a decision to hand all four slots over to Delta would be difficult to justify. It's uncertain at this point whether the DOT will render its alliance decisions before making a final determination on how to allocate the Haneda slots. Though that route appears to make sense in light of the arguments advanced in Delta's application, the two antitrust immunity applications will take longer to decide. Meanwhile, scarce slots at Haneda--slots which could benefit airline consumers--will go unused.