The U.S. Transportation Department has denied Delta Air Lines’ request to allow it to use up to two of its five Tokyo Haneda (HND) slot pairs to fly from any U.S. airport, rather than from the U.S. cities designated by the department in 2019.
Delta’s application, filed in May, argued that market conditions have changed since the slot pairs were allocated and cities designated for HND service. It added that other U.S. airlines serving HND—American Airlines (two slot pairs), United Airlines (four) and Hawaiian Airlines (one)—should have the same option.
However, the department says that granting airlines the freedom to choose an alternative U.S. gateway would contradict its original justification for selecting specific carriers and gateways over competing applicants. It adds that Delta’s proposal would “undermine” the department’s public interest decisions, which are intended to benefit the traveling public.
“The department believes, consistent with our past practice, that should any of the carriers selected for Haneda service wish to change their U.S. gateway, the public interest would be best served by our consideration of such a request on the basis of a fresh and complete evidentiary record, and in light of the circumstances presented at that time,” the ruling says.
“Such record would offer the opportunity not only for arguments and evidence that the requesting carrier might present in support of its proposed shift, but also potential arguments and evidence of other interested carriers and communities in favor of alternative outcomes that they believe would best maximize public benefits.”
The Transportation Department cleared Delta in 2019 to use its five slot pairs to fly to HND from any of seven cities: Atlanta (ATL); Detroit (DTW); Honolulu (HNL); Los Angeles (LAX); Minneapolis (MSP); Portland (PDX), Oregon; and Seattle (SEA).
But Delta says those routes are slow to recover, with demand from HNL, for example, at just 18% of 2019 levels. PDX and MSP are also below 50% of 2019 HND demand levels, with ATL—the leader in demand recovery to HND—at 64%, according to the carrier.
The airline therefore argued that it should be able to use two slot pairs to fly from any U.S. city so it can “respond more nimbly to the evolving demand environment in Asia following the COVID-19 pandemic.” Delta is currently flying to HND from ATL, DTW, LAX, MSP and SEA.
Although American and Hawaiian supported the motion, United Airlines objected, accusing the SkyTeam alliance member of “gaming the system.” The Star Alliance member described the plan as a “self-serving scheme.”
In particular, United alleged that Delta is intentionally charging extremely high fares to suppress demand on the Portland-HND route, which the carrier would be forced to start flying again in November once COVID-19-related slot waivers expire on Oct. 28.
In response to United’s allegations, Delta told Aviation Week in May: “Delta stands by our well-reasoned petition to [the department] and we look forward to a constructive dialogue to ensure Haneda access is consistent with open skies policy and benefits the U.S. traveling public.”
Source : Aviation Week