DOT ASKS AIRLINES TO LIST PRIORITIES ON JAPAN ROUTES

DOT ASKS AIRLINES TO LIST PRIORITIES ON JAPAN ROUTES

The Department of Transportation plans to ask three airlines to identify their No. 1 priority for new flights to Japan, and is expected to give them permission to fly those before the end of February.

The landmark air deal negotiated last week between the United States and Japan created 12 new daily nonstop flights a week between the two countries for American, Delta and Continental airlines.American is expected to make another Chicago-Tokyo flight its top priority; Delta is expected to launch service from Atlanta to Tokyo; and Continental is expected to use its first wish on a Houston-Tokyo route.

The DOT will ask the airlines to submit their requests by Feb. 10. A comment period will follow, and a DOT official said he hopes the process will be finished by Feb. 22.

''We have extremely valuable rights in Japan that we don't want to sit idle even for a few extra weeks,'' said DOT deputy assistant secretary for aviation Patrick Murphy.

The department hopes to distribute the remaining routes by the end of May, he said.

The DOT's quick action came after the three airlines were said to have settled disputes with Federal Express over access to takeoff and landing slots that the carrier controls at Tokyo's Narita Airport. Sources involved in the deal said FedEx at one point was asking $10 million for each of the spots.

The framework deal initialed Friday in Washington will permit two new airlines, most likely Trans World Airlines and US Airways, to enter the market.

It will also allow marketing cooperation, known in the industry as ''code sharing,'' between airlines from the United States, Japan and third countries.