BY JULIAN RYALL
Japan Correspondent

TOKYO — U.S. airlines are vying for half of the 24 slots that are being made available in the run up to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympic Games, with an additional route to Guam on the short list of potential destinations.

The new slots are being freed up after the Japanese government reached an agreement with the U.S. military in January on access to airspace over Tokyo. The airspace is managed by Yokota Air Base, in western Tokyo, which is the headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan and the Fifth Air Force and has been under U.S. control since 1945.

With Japan keen to increase visitor numbers for the Olympics and equally increase the number of business travellers entering Japan through Haneda International Airport, the two sides have reached an agreement that gives civil aircraft improved access through the previously restricted air space while not impacting military operations.

The Japanese side appears to have sweetened the deal with Washington by promising half of the additional 24 slots to U.S. carriers.

The 12 new slot pairs will increase the total number of daily flights in and out of Haneda by 50 a day and from 60,000 a year at present to 99,000.

More importantly for travelers, the change means a selection of new cities in the U.S. mainland will be available with direct flights and several others — including Guam and Hawaii — should get additional services.

Direct flights from Haneda — which is far more popular with travelers than Narita International Airport because of its proximity to downtown Tokyo — presently serve seven destinations in the United States: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and San Francisco, as well as Honolulu and Kona.

Four U.S. airlines have filed applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate on the routes.

United Airlines Inc. is requesting six of the 12 slots that are available, specifically to A.B. Won Pat International Airport on Guam, as well as Chicago O’Hare, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Los Angeles International and Houston George Bush Intercontinental.

The Guam, Los Angeles and Newark flights would be in addition to the flights the airline already operates on those routes, while the airline also wants to shift its flights to and from Chicago, Houston and Washington D.C. from Narita to Haneda.

Delta, meanwhile, wants to operate daily from Haneda to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metro, Portland, Seattle-Tacoma and Daniel K. Inouye International in Honolulu.

Two flights a day are planned for Honolulu, while the Atlanta, Detroit, Portland and Seattle flights would be the first direct services between Haneda and those cities.

American Airlines, which is in a business alliance with Japan Airlines, is applying to add Dallas/Fort Worth International to its existing services, along with Los Angeles International and McCarran International in Las Vegas.

Hawaiian Airlines is also seeking additional access and has applied for three slots on the Haneda-Honolulu route.

In total, the four airlines have applied for 19 slots and the decision on which applications for the 12 available slots will rest with the Department of Transportation. No date has been announced for the decision, but it will come at the end of the consultation period in February and March of next year. Flights should commence on March 29, 2020.

The decision will be based on which routes will serve the greatest public benefit and have the highest level of support from the destination city in the United States. mbj