American Airlines Group Inc. asked U.S. regulators for flight rights to Tokyo held by Delta Air Lines Inc., saying the smaller carrier isn’t making the best use of access to the Japanese capital’s close-in Haneda airport.

By taking over the flight slot, American would operate year-round between Haneda and Los Angeles, a plan “substantially superior to Delta’s near-dormant Seattle-Haneda service,” according to a filing yesterday with the U.S. Transportation Department.

American, the world’s largest airline, vied with Atlanta- based Delta and United Continental Holdings Inc. last year for new flying rights made available at Haneda, more than three decades after U.S.-based carriers were forced to shift flights to Tokyo’s Narita airport. Business travelers favor Haneda over more-distant Narita and will pay a premium to land there.

“American vigorously opposes any use of these valuable Haneda rights on a seasonal basis, and we stand ready to use them fully on a year-round basis,” the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier said in the filing. “The Department should not allow Delta to squander these valuable frequencies.”

Delta, which is paring Haneda service starting this month, will only fly the Seattle route often enough to keep it from reverting to the Transportation Department, American said. Japanese authorities limit foreign flights, and U.S. regulators oversee that access.

Delta said it’s studying American’s filing, “which appears to have no merit.”

“We are fully compliant with the DOT’s conditions regarding the use of Haneda frequencies,” Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman, said in an e-mail. Reducing flights between some cities on a seasonal basis is a widespread practice among airlines, he said.

Haneda is about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from downtown Tokyo. U.S.-Japan treaties since 1978 have restricted most U.S. carriers to Narita, about 40 miles away by car or train.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at

Photo Credit: Passengers at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Flickr