The latest round in the fight for coveted slots at Tokyo's Haneda Airport shows that despite Japan Airlines' (JAL) financial recovery, it is still being haunted by its journey through bankruptcy protection.

JAL is criticizing Japanese regulators for awarding a greater share of new slots at Haneda to rival All Nippon Airways (ANA) and calling for an explanation of the criteria used by the government. Whatever the official rationale, it appears that ANA has won support for its argument that slot awards should be used to help offset the advantage gained by JAL through its government-backed bailout in 2010.

Of the 16 international slots awarded by the land, infrastructure and transport ministry (MLIT), 11 have been granted to ANA and just five to JAL. The additional Haneda slots are enabled by runway and facility expansion at the airport, and they can be used in the fiscal year that begins in April.

Slots at Haneda have been a contentious topic among Japanese and foreign carriers since the airport began to reintroduce a limited number of international flights there in recent years. Haneda slots are valued by airlines because the airport is closer to downtown Tokyo than Narita International Airport.

ANA lobbied the Japanese government for several months regarding the slots, insisting publicly that it deserves a greater share because the help given to JAL during its emergence from bankruptcy protection unfairly altered the competitive playing field. There have been signals that the government was leaning toward giving ANA more slots.

JAL says it “cannot accept” the explanation given by the MLIT regarding its allocation criteria, which involved the establishment of new routes. JAL states that it will “proceed to formally seek from MLIT a rational explanation and a correction of the content of this allocation.”

JAL also argues that “decisions regarding the allocation of national assets such as departure and arrival slots were not made from the standpoint of maximization of passenger convenience and the national interest. . . . Additionally, no rational reason was given by MLIT as to how the current allocation would bring about such benefits.”

The carrier further complains that regulators have not “specifically explained why new criteria have been abruptly established, why it is that routes established at [Haneda] are to be regarded as 'new,' or how they might impede or distort an appropriate competitive environment.”

JAL says it argued for an even split of the Haneda slots available to Japanese carriers. This would be of the greatest benefit to customers and the national interest, it argues, by maximizing the value of a limited amount of slots, promoting connections between international and domestic flights and helping maintain a competitive balance between the two airlines and their alliances.

ANA is understandably more positive about the slot allocation. “This will help close the competitive gap between ANA and [JAL] created by the extensive state financial support given to JAL after its bankruptcy,” says ANA CEO Shinichiro Ito.

In addition to the international slots awarded to Japanese airlines, about the same number will be allocated to overseas carriers. U.S. airlines, which have long complained about lack of access to slots at Tokyo's airports, have already signaled they will compete fiercely for any quota granted to them.