ATLANTA (

TheStreet

) -- Now it is

Delta

(DAL) - Get Report

that is playing defense in Japan.

Just months after it offered to pay $1 billion to

squeeze

American

(AMR)

and the oneworld alliance nearly out of the U.S.-Japan market, Delta is trying to assure it has a competitive role in the market between U.S. and Tokyo's Haneda Airport, which in October will reopen to U.S. carriers for the first time since 1978.

On Tuesday, five U.S. carriers filed applications for Haneda service with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Four slots are available.

United

( UAUA) applied for one so it can serve San Francisco.

Hawaiian

(HA) - Get Report

applied for Honolulu. American sought both New York and Los Angeles.

Continental

(CAL) - Get Report

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asked for Newark and Guam. Then there was Delta, which applied for all four slots, in order to serve Seattle, Detroit, Los Angeles and Honolulu.

United took a different approach than Delta. "We did some serious thinking about what we want, what would work, what would benefit consumers the most, and that is what we applied for," said Julie Oettinger, United managing director of international and regulatory affairs. "We didn't just throw mud at the wall and say, 'We want everything that sticks.' "

Why does Delta want it all? Its case is not wholly illogical. Besides the four slots for U.S. carriers, four additional slots will be awarded to Japan's two international carriers,

ANA

and

JAL

. ANA is United's partner in the Star alliance; JAL is American's partner in oneworld. Both partnerships recently sought DOT approval, which they will likely receive, for trans-Pacific joint ventures, immunized against antitrust violations. Those joint ventures would be able to operate flights, on either carrier's airplanes, in the markets they select.

For instance, if ANA chose to, it could fly into Newark, the biggest hub in the New York area, and the revenue could be split among ANA, Continental and United.

But Delta and Skyteam lack a Japanese partner. The only Skyteam presence in the Haneda-U.S. market will be the flights awarded to Delta. Right now, the only Skyteam member at Haneda is

Korean Airlines

, which flies to Seoul. "Today, service at Haneda is overwhelmingly dominated by Star and oneworld carriers JAL and ANA, which have established large hubs and collectively operate 84% of scheduled departures and 90% of scheduled seats at Haneda," Delta wrote, in its DOT application. To compete, Delta said, it needs Haneda service from both the West Coast and an Eastern hub.

Delta said Seattle service is its first choice, although that could be a gambit aimed at securing two routes, because Detroit is an obvious choice. It is both a leading U.S. gateway to Asia and the only proposed Midwest gateway to Haneda. Delta said Detroit-Haneda would be served with a 747 seating 403 passengers, while Seattle, supposedly a higher priority, would get an A330 seating 298.

By the way, proposed scheduling for the U.S.-Haneda is a piece of work. In order to avoid any challenge to Narita's standing as Asia's primary hub, Japanese authorities severely limit operations in the Haneda-U.S. market. They will permit no arrivals before 10 p.m., no departures before midnight, and no flights after 7 a.m. Delta says it can still offer acceptable departures: 8:10 p.m. from Detroit and 7:25 p.m. from Seattle.

Events are moving quickly as the U.S.-Japan aviation market, perhaps the world's most restricted for decades, opens up. For Japan, the opening represents an effort to ensure Narita's relevance even as China's importance grows and the impending arrival of next-generation aircraft expands the list of potential non-stop U.S.-China markets.

Thought it failed in its bid to lure JAL to its side, Delta retains a strong position at Narita. And over time, it will likely forge alliances with the smaller Japanese carriers at Haneda, so that it too can serve domestic Japanese destinations.

But as far as getting all four Haneda slots, that seems unlikely. San Francisco, the strongest West Coast hub, is an obvious choice. If United gets a route, than American must also get one, probably at New York's Kennedy Airport. Detroit is also an obvious choice. Continental cannot have Newark, because then Star gets two routes. So either Delta or Hawaiian gets the fourth slot.

As for the Japanese carriers, one or both could serve Los Angeles, which leads U.S. airports in the number of local passengers to Japan. One could serve Chicago. And ANA could serve Newark.

The DOT is expected to complete its selection by April, because the airline industry's international slot conference for fall service requires applications by May.

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

.