New Tokyo Haneda Flights: Some Strange Choices, Courtesy of the Feds

Last Updated May 10, 2010 11:23 AM EDT

As part of the open skies agreement signed between the US and Japan, four slots were opened up for flights between the US and Tokyo's close-in Haneda airport. Six airlines applied for the slots and only three of them were chosen. I am really surprised at the strange choices made here. Here's a chart of what happened.
Airline City Results
American New York/JFK Approved
American Los Angeles Denied
Continental Newark Denied
Continental Guam Denied
Delta Detroit Approved
Delta Honolulu Denied
Delta Los Angeles Approved
Delta Seattle Denied
Hawaiian Honolulu Approved
United San Francisco Denied
The Department of Transportation explains its rationale as follows. Hawaiian was chosen because it is the largest market between the US and Tokyo. Even though there is very little connecting traffic and nearly all the traffic originates in Japan, it's going to provide a strong boost to the Hawaiian economy. That's it.

On the west coast, it chose LAX because it's the largest market between the West Coast and Japan. It chose Delta over American because Delta will fly a bigger airplane (747) than American (777) so it provides more capacity.

Next up was Detroit. Detroit was chosen because it's a good way to connect to much of the country. It's not a huge local market but it offers good connections and Delta has a proven track record on Detroit-Japan.

Lastly, they chose New York. Why American over Continental? Because they seem to think that the Star Alliance and SkyTeam have enough of a presence on US-Japan flights but oneworld does not.

So what's wrong with these choices? It's nice the feds want to stimulate the economy of Hawai'i, but is that really the best use of a slot? It would seem to me that you'd get better public benefit going to San Francisco. They like to add that allowing a new entrant into Haneda will provide a big competitive boost, but Americans don't take these flights, so who cares?

And why on Earth would they argue that oneworld doesn't have a strong enough presence in US-Japan? Did the DOT forget that Japan Air Lines is a part of oneworld? If they were really concerned about competition, they might not have wanted to shut out United/Continental entirely. And in terms of competition, with Japan Air Lines deciding to start San Francisco to Haneda, United would provide good competition.

I understand that Star Alliance already has a strong presence with ANA, but Japan Air Lines is hardly tiny, despite the fact that it's been shrinking.

It's just another strange decision coming from the DOT. I'm sure Delta and Hawaiian are very happy.

Photo via Flickr user OiMax