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U.S.-Japan agree to deal that may doom MSP-Tokyo daily nonstop

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Delta flight headed to Orlando
A Delta Boeing 767-300 launched out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in May 2015. Delta says a new U.S.-Japan air service pact will force it to end its daily nonstop flight from the Twin Cities to Tokyo.
Courtesy Emmanuel Canaan

Updated: 5:25 p.m. | Posted: 11:42 a.m.

Delta Air Lines expressed regret Thursday at news of a new U.S.-Japan air service pact that the airline says will force it to end its daily nonstop flight from the Twin Cities to Tokyo. 

The agreement lets U.S. carriers operate daytime flights to and from Tokyo's Haneda Airport but allows only five daytime slots for trans-Pacific flights by U.S. carriers. 

Delta's Japan operations are centered at Narita International Airport, which is farther from downtown Tokyo. The company's argued that the agreement puts it at a competitive disadvantage and that passengers traveling to Japan will switch to rival carriers. So many would switch that nonstop service from the Twin Cities to Tokyo would not be viable, according to Delta. 

Typically, only about two dozen people whose travel begins in the Twin Cities get on that flight to Tokyo. The rest of the passengers fly into the Twin Cities from other markets to catch the flight. 

The carrier in recent weeks has rallied Twin Cities business leaders warning of the consequences.

"Delta is deeply disappointed with the final agreement reached today between the U.S. and Japanese governments to incrementally open the Tokyo-Haneda airport. Tokyo-Haneda will remain a severely restricted airport with limited competition," Peter Carter, Delta's chief legal officer, said in a statement Thursday

"Delta is committed to doing our best to maintain the viability of our current Asian route structure and our Tokyo-Narita hub for as long as possible, recognizing that commercial impacts are imminent," he added. "Delta will make a careful assessment and adjust our network accordingly."

Officials at the Metropolitan Airports Commission, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce all expressed disapproval with the agreement.

"You've got the country's largest concentration on a per capita basis of Fortune 500 companies here in Minnesota and all of sudden their access to Asia is going to be what? Hop on an airplane to Chicago and then fly to Asia?" asked Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul area chamber.

For decades, Narita was Northwest Airlines' primary Asian hub, which Delta inherited through its 2008 merger with Northwest. Minnesota businesses consider the nonstop service between MSP and Narita a strategic asset, although only about two dozen people a day from the Twin Cities fly that route. The rest of the passengers come from other markets to catch the flight.

Despite Delta's concerns, Delta competitor United Airlines applauded the deal.

"Offering daytime service to and from the heart of Tokyo will create appealing new business and leisure travel opportunities for our global customers," the carrier said in a statement. "We look forward to providing more convenient access to this key market from our San Francisco hub."

Industry trade group Airlines for America also praised the Haneda deal. 

The new flights are expected to begin as early as this fall, the U.S. State Department said in a statement announcing the agreement.