The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday granted final approval to Delta Air Lines and other carriers for coveted daytime flights to Tokyo's downtown Haneda Airport.
Delta in July got tentative approval for routes to Haneda from Los Angeles and Minneapolis -- but not from Atlanta. Thursday's move finalizes the DOT's decision.
Haneda is preferred by many business travelers because of its central Tokyo location compared to the more-remote Tokyo Narita Airport.
"The proximity of Haneda airport to Tokyo’s business district will provide Delta customers quicker and more convenient access to the center of the city," Delta's chief legal officer Peter Carter said in a written statement.
Delta had applied for three daytime routes to Haneda -- from Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Atlanta. But the DOT did not grant approval for the Atlanta route, saying Minneapolis would offer less-circuitous connections for many travelers and connectivity from the upper Midwest.
Delta has said that would not affect the route it already flies from Atlanta to Tokyo Narita.
The DOT also granted daytime Haneda routes to American Airlines, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines; from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu, respectively.
The route approvals are the result of a new aviation agreement struck earlier this year between the United States and Japan.
Delta has voiced concerns that liberalizing U.S. airlines' access to Haneda in the way the new agreement does would threaten the viability of its hub at Tokyo Narita.
Delta plans to cancel service between Tokyo Narita and New York, Osaka and Bangkok this fall. The airline also plans to discontinue its Minneapolis-Narita route on Oct. 29, effectively transferring the route to Haneda.
"Without a significant network restructuring, Delta's position in the region would be significantly weakened," said Delta's senior vice president Vinay Dube in written comments.
Dube argued that the Haneda agreement restricts daytime access of U.S. carriers, giving an advantage to Delta's competitors, which unlike Delta have Japanese joint venture partners. American partners with Japan Airlines while United partners with All Nippon Airways. Delta has pushed for Haneda to be "fully opened for competition," in a way that would allow Delta to move its hub from Narita to Haneda.
Industry group Airlines for America, which Delta left last year over differences on policy matters, said allowing U.S. carriers to compete for access at Haneda “helps to improve international relations with our Japanese partners, while yielding immense benefits for the traveling and shipping public."