The United States and Japan agreed Thursday to open up Tokyo’s most desirable airport to more U.S. airline daytime service, a decision that Delta Air Lines contends will threaten its Asia routes, including Minnesota’s only nonstop flight to the continent.
Aviation officials from the two governments reached an agreement that provides daytime landing slots for trans-Pacific flights at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport for the first time since 1978, according to a release from the U.S. Embassy in Japan. While American and United Airlines applaud the decision, Atlanta-based Delta — the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — said it is “deeply disappointed with the final agreement”, which it believes favors its rivals to such a degree that Delta’s Asia network could unspool.
“Delta is committed to doing our best to maintain the viability of our current Asian route structure and our Narita hub for as long as possible, recognizing that commercial impacts are imminent,” said Peter Carter, Delta’s executive vice president and chief legal officer, in a statement. “Delta will make a careful assessment and adjust our network accordingly.”
Four nighttime slot pairings presently given to U.S. carriers will be transferred to the more sought-after daytime hours. Additionally, one nighttime slot will be added for a U.S. airline. Since a slot equals both one takeoff and one landing, the deal means 12 new slots for flights between the two countries.
Delta currently operates its Japan hub out of Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, located 46 miles from the city’s downtown. Narita became Tokyo’s international hub in 1978 because of space constraint’s at Haneda, near downtown. A new runway and other improvements have gradually shifted some international traffic back to Haneda in recent years, but the U.S.-Japan Open Skies Agreement did not allow for daytime flights for U.S. carriers.
The expansion benefits Delta’s rivals chiefly because they have partnerships with Japan’s two major airlines. Delta’s effort to develop a partnership with a smaller Japanese airline hasn’t succeeded. While Delta is eligible to apply for the slots, it says it will likely only be granted one or two. Without a Japanese partner airline to transfer its passengers on to other points throughout Asia, it would struggle to make a couple of routes into Haneda profitable.
Delta anticipates losing many of its Tokyo passengers from New York and Los Angeles to other carriers. This will eventually ripple across to its other five U.S. ports with nonstops to Narita. The airline says Tokyo could eventually be unprofitable, leading to the potential demise of all of its nonstop routes into the country.