Dogfight over Tokyo: Japan's big airlines vie for landing rights

Sun Aug 18, 2013 5:04pm EDT
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By Tim Kelly and Kentaro Sugiyama

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo's busy Haneda airport is the latest battleground for Japan's two big carriers, Japan Airlines Co Ltd (9201.T: Quote) and ANA Holdings (9202.T: Quote), in a politically-charged fight over $400 million worth of landing rights.

The two carriers have locked horns for decades at home, but this clash threatens to take on an international dimension by embroiling British Airways (ICAG.L: Quote) and other foreign carriers.

At issue are 20 new landing slots at Haneda, the world's fourth busiest airport, which according to industry experts, can generate around $20 million each in annual operating profit.

With no new runways or airports planned for Japan's capital, the October ruling will likely be the last major slot distribution in Tokyo for years and could give one of the two carriers a competitive edge.

Aviation regulators will decide who gets the slots by October. Normally the allotment, available after the opening of a new runway, would be split down the middle, but ANA argues it deserves the lot. Getting them all would for the first time make it Japan's biggest international carrier.

ANA, already the nation's biggest carrier by revenue and fleet size, is miffed a Democrat government in 2010 used 350 billion yen ($3.54 billion) of taxpayer money to bail out a bankrupt JAL and says now it is payback-time for the helping hand given to its rival.

"We are not on an equal footing, the revival of JAL went too far," ANA Group CEO Shinichiro Ito said at his company's annual shareholder gathering in Tokyo in June. "ANA deserves all the slots."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, in opposition at the time of the JAL rescue, is cocking a sympathetic ear.   Continued...

A woman watches a Japan Airlines (JAL) aeroplane (C) taking off behind an All Nippon Airways' (ANA) aeroplane at Haneda airport in Tokyo August 8, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai