NEW YORK — The Transportation Department said Monday that it has made preliminary recommendations on which airlines will serve six hotly contested routes from the United States to Japan.
It gave two each to American Airlines and Delta Air Lines and one each to America West Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines.
The route awards are of great significance to the industry because the transpacific market is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative in the world.
The recommendations by the department's public counsel are the first step in a lengthy award process that is not expected to be completed until late this year.
The public counsel recommended that American Airlines, the nation's largest carrier and a unit of Dallas-based AMR Corp., receive permission to fly from Chicago to Tokyo and from San Jose to Tokyo.
Atlanta-based Delta was recommended for routes from Los Angeles to Tokyo and from Portland, Ore., to Nagoya.
The counsel also recommended that America West Airlines Inc. get a Honolulu-Nagoya route and that Hawaiian Airlines get a Honolulu-Fukuoka route.
The Chicago-Tokyo route was also sought by United Airlines, a subsidiary of Chicago-based UAL Corp. The counsel designated United, one of the largest Pacific carriers, as the backup carrier on the route.
By recommending United as backup and omitting Northwest Airlines Inc. from the list, the department seems to be seeking additional competition across the Pacific rather than favoring already well-represented carriers, industry analysts said.
The awarding of two new routes to Delta would double the number of Pacific routes that it flies.
Delta currently flies from Portland to Tokyo and from Portland to Seoul, South Korea, with continuing service to Taipei and Bangkok.
The next step in the route-awarding process is a ruling by one of the department's administrative law judges, which must be rendered by Aug. 3. Senior officials at the department will then make their recommendation. President Bush will make the final decision.
The counsel recommended that American be the backup carrier to Delta on the Los Angeles-Tokyo route. Backups are chosen in the event that a carrier turns down a route award.