The U.S. and Japan announced tonight that they have reached an Open Skies deal. The talks were extended into Friday, and as the day wore on the signals were increasingly positive (as we blogged earlier today). By early evening it was apparent the deal was all but finalized, with only minor technical issues remaining.
Here is the link to the DOT announcement about the deal. The key sentence is this one: "the agreement also would provide opportunities for growth of U.S. carrier operations at Tokyo’s Narita Airport and ensure fair competition regarding the new opportunities at Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport."
The devil is in the details here: how did they ensure a level playing field for transpacific departures from Haneda? It looks like the U.S. obtained the compromise it had been pushing for during this round of talks. Japan stuck to its policy of only allowing transpacific flights at Haneda between 10pm and 7am. But the U.S. gained an important caveat -- arrivals can start at 10pm, but no departures before midnight.
This means that U.S. flights can arrive just after 10pm and still have enough time to turn around before anyone else can depart. Otherwise, it would have been much easier for Japanese airlines to position their planes at Haneda during the day ready for a 10pm departure to the U.S. -- gaining a distinct advantage over the U.S. carriers.
This became the key unresolved point during this round of talks. Earlier this week the Japanese negotiators would not go for this concept. Then this morning they proposed departures beginning at 11.45pm. It appears that the U.S. team eventually prevailed with the midnight threshold (although the midnight departure clause may not apply to Hawaii flights).
Meanwhile, Japan Airlines issued a statement that focuses on the ability of Japanese and U.S. airlines to apply for anti-trust immunity. This was, after all, the main thing the Japanese wanted from the deal.
This from the JAL release: "JAL intends to apply for ATI with a strategic US partner as soon as possible, so as to seize this opportunity to strengthen our network and bring added benefits to our valued customers."