U.S. airlines squeezed as Haneda goes international

Restrictions on time slots put carriers at disadvantage

by Yuri Kageyama

The Associated Press

Haneda airport will open up to international flights next month as Japan works to maintain Tokyo’s status as an Asian travel hub. But it comes with a big catch for U.S. airlines that have been squeezed into the least convenient time slots.

Opening Haneda to international flights makes a lot of sense for travelers.

It’s just a 20-minute monorail or cab ride from central Tokyo. Narita International, the capital’s other airport, requires at least an hour train ride, and the trip can take more than two hours when traveling by car on clogged roads.

With Asia booming compared with the stagnation in other parts of the world, and the airline industry on a recovery track from the hammering it took two years ago, hopes are high that the Oct. 21 start to international flights at Haneda will be a success.

They could bring opportunities in new kinds of travel among Japanese, including to Pacific resort islands, without hurting business at Narita.

Tokyo, facing tougher competition from nearby airports such as Incheon in Seoul, also sees Haneda as an opportunity to protect its status as a vital stop for international airlines.

Yet the main beneficiaries from the change at Haneda are, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, which is in bankruptcy protection after years of inefficiency and high costs brought it to the point of collapse.

A handful of Asian carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Malaysian Airlines are also benefiting, although to a lesser extent.

U.S. airlines are being restricted to flights that leave or arrive between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The limited time slots made available to the Americans put them at a clear disadvantage because flights leaving in the early hours of the morning aren’t popular with fliers. It takes two to three hours of maintenance and fueling for an aircraft to be ready for a new takeoff.

The two Japanese airlines, which dominate Haneda’s domestic flights, already have many jets coming and going, allowing them to streamline aircraft rotations and efficiently schedule domestic and international flights.

An American Airlines flight from New York must stay in Haneda for eight hours before it takes off, complete with airport parking fees. Adding to the unevenly stacked game is the fact that the Japanese can also offer attractive flight connections from other parts of Japan because of their abundant routes to regional airports.

But the grumbling is surprisingly quiet among the U.S. carriers.

Negotiations on airline routes are carried out between the U.S. and Japanese governments and the reasons behind airline selections aren’t clearly disclosed. No one wants to rock the boat when Japan’s skies are finally starting to open up.

“We’d like other times in the future, obviously. We’d like better times in the future,” said Theo Panagiotoulias, vice president and managing director of the Asia-Pacific region for American Airlines, one of three U.S. airlines that won Haneda flights.

“In an ideal world, you’d like to have your flight arrive and then turn the aircraft around as quickly as possible and fly out again to have the aircraft in the air. With the current times, we can’t do that,” he said in American’s Tokyo office. “That’s not optimal.”

American Airlines received government approval to fly to New York from Haneda, the only flight from Haneda to New York, although it did not get approval to fly to Los Angeles.

JAL is starting Haneda flights to and from San Francisco, Honolulu, Paris, Bangkok, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul and Beijing.

ANA will fly from Haneda to Los Angeles, Honolulu, Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok and Singapore.

Delta Air Lines President Edward Bastian said he was excited about winning any Haneda slot at all, which took years of negotiations, and noted Delta got two of the four slots awarded to U.S. carriers, with direct flights to Detroit and Los Angeles.

“The time slots are going to be a bit of a challenge for the operation,” Bastian said during a recent trip to Tokyo. “We will work overtime with the Japanese authorities to hopefully improve those times.”

In turning international, Haneda is adding a new runway, train and monorail stations, as well as a terminal that features Edo-style carpentry for restaurants and shops, to serve 60,000 flights and 7 million passengers a year, according to Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp.

Another 30,000 flights are expected to be added at Haneda, but details are undecided, requiring more U.S.-Japan government talks, said Yoichi Hirai, TIAT vice president of corporate planning.

Hirai says the 10 p.m.-7 a.m. time slots for U.S. carriers stem from an initial Japanese government policy of limiting Haneda to closer destinations and keeping Narita as the main international airport.

“If it takes two hours to just get to Narita for a two-hour flight to Seoul, it doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “But the government policy is starting to change to make Haneda more of an international hub, and so it’s looking into daytime slots for U.S. destinations.”

Hawaiian Airlines, which is breaking into the Japanese market for the first time with its Haneda-Honolulu service, is hopeful about another Haneda flight. For now, it sees the near midnight departure for the route it got as a plus in allowing a full day of work for Japanese travelers.

The flight arrives about noon in Hawaii when hotel check-ins start. Departure time is 6:30 p.m. for nearly a full day in Hawaii.

It is also banking on its ability to deliver Hawaiian ambience en route to Hawaii, while making adjustments in its menu, adding Japanese-speaking crew and planning surprise giveaways to woo Japanese customers.