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) --


(DAL) - Get Delta Air Lines, Inc. Report

wants to leave no doubt that it is the world's dominant airline.

It will let nobody stand in its way, particularly



, the second largest airline, with which Delta has picked a fight.

The prize? A significant presence at Tokyo's Narita Airport, the most important airport in the world" fastest growing aviation market. American has it, a result of its partnership with

Japan Air Lines

, Narita's largest carrier. Delta wants it, and is negotiating to replace American as

JAL's partner


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In early afternoon trading, Delta shares were down 46 cents to $8.50, while shares in AMR were down 41 cents to $7.54.

"What Delta does here is bid up the thing so American spends a lot of money, because American is desperate to keep JAL," says aviation consultant Mike Boyd. "That's a good strategy (for Delta). This is sound, wonderfully nasty competition. It shows you why we should be proud of the U.S. airline industry.

"The whole global airline industry is in the tank, except in the U.S., where we have visionary leadership that goes for each other's throats," Boyd said. "This may be the one U.S. industry that can take over the world."

Of the three largest carriers, American is the only one without a Narita hub. The relationship with JAL enables American passengers at Narita to fly beyond Tokyo on JAL. But JAL is deeply troubled financially and is currently seeking to restructure. In early June, American began talking with its management about expanded cooperation and a potential investment.

Not long afterward, Delta also entered into talks with JAL. For Delta, the effort is a win-win, says aviation consultant George Hamlin. "Either Delta gets an outstanding position on the North Pacific, or it potentially causes its rival American to pay more to keep JAL as a partner, which would keep American from doing something else with its money," he says.

Already the world's largest airline as the result of 2008 merger with


-- a principal purpose of the merger was to secure Northwest's Tokyo hub -- Delta is not resting on its laurels.

The world's largest travel market is New York, and Delta is already the biggest international carrier at Kennedy. In August, Delta said it had cut a deal with

US Airways


to acquire slots at La Guardia, making it the biggest airline there as well. Slots are assigned take off and landing times at congested airports. Delta traded slots at Washington's Reagan National Airport for the La Guardia slots.

Overall, Delta is the second-largest carrier in the New York market, behind


(CAL) - Get Caleres, Inc. Report

, which had about 37% more capacity in the market in 2008. Continental operates a hub at Newark.

In Europe, Delta has an enviable position, the result of its role in the Skyteam alliance. The world's airlines are split up into three alliances, or groups of airlines that write tickets on one another's flights and make other arrangements to ease connections. For U.S. carriers, the alliance relationships determine which European hubs they use to connect passengers.

Oneworld alliance member American flies into the

British Airways

hub at London Heathrow. Star alliance member



flies into the


hub at Frankfort. Then there is Delta. It flies into the


hub at Amsterdam and the

Air France

hub in Paris. Delta has two European hubs, while its competitors each have one.

In Asia, a deal with JAL would make Delta dominant at Narita where, as a result of its acquisition of Northwest's hub, it now serves 24 markets, including 10 trans-Pacific markets. It is already the leading U.S. carrier across the Pacific.

In November 2008, shortly after the Northwest merger, Delta moved to enhance its trans-Pacific presence through a deal with Seattle-based

Alaska Air

(ALK) - Get Alaska Air Group, Inc. Report

that improved the pair's capability to offer connections in Seattle, the best positioned U.S. city to originate flights across the North Pacific.

Boyd said Delta has transformed itself, first in a 2005 bankruptcy and then through the Northwest merger, a deal that put a former Northwest CEO and several key Northwest executives in command of Delta. In fact, he said, in the merger,

Northwest took over Delta


"The people at the top come from Northwest but genetically they come from pit bulls," Boyd said. "This is not the gentle, wonderful, magnolia-sipping Delta of the past. This is a whole new airline."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.