Mr. Vice President, we would like to welcome you to the Twin Cities; we appreciate your support for past infrastructure improvements such as the St. Paul Union Depot project you are touring while in town.
As representatives of Minnesota's business community, we have serious concerns about another piece of transportation infrastructure that is critical to our region — the daily direct flight between Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and Tokyo. As we speak, negotiations are going on between the U.S. government and the government of Japan regarding the limited access for trans-Pacific flights at Tokyo International Airport in Haneda. Without your urgent engagement, we fear the outcome of these talks will result in the loss of Minnesota's only direct service to Asia and the critical connection between our two economies.
For decades, Minnesota's business community has enjoyed a unique advantage as a result of the incredible air service available through MSP. The fact that MSP serves as an important hub for Delta Air Lines has given Minnesota businesses nearly unparalleled access to destinations around the country and throughout the world. One route in particular has provided our members with important, reliable access to growing markets in Asia — Delta's daily nonstop flight to Tokyo.
As you know, Minnesota is fortunate to have a large number of Fortune 500 companies call this state home. These companies are among those that rely most heavily on this vital link to Asia. Last year alone, over 10,000 trips were taken by these companies out of the more than approximately 92,000 customers who used this route. It is this service, provided by Delta to the state and region, that helps keep these companies in Minnesota and drives our shared economic prosperity.
Unfortunately, it appears the U.S. government could be getting ready to accept a proposal this week from the government of Japan that would provide a limited number of slots in and out of Tokyo Haneda Airport — Tokyo's close-in airport. The limited number of slots would provide a distinct advantage to Japanese carriers and their U.S. partners over Delta, which would not be able to move its hub operation from the less-convenient Narita Airport to Haneda. This would siphon customers from Delta's Narita hub, undermining the hub's viability and putting Delta's direct flight between MSP and Asia in jeopardy. Any agreement between the U.S. and Japan to provide U.S. carriers with additional access to the airport in Haneda should offer any U.S. airline the opportunity to compete in the market on an even playing field.
We applaud the efforts to expand U.S. airlines' access to destinations around the world. However, significant changes in the dynamics of a particular market, like those being contemplated in Tokyo with this agreement, should ensure that fair competition and an even playing field are maintained. In this case, the viability of an essential service to our members, state and region is at stake.
We implore you, Mr. Vice President, to engage the president and the administration on this issue. Our entire congressional delegation and our governor have been united in their efforts to educate the secretary of transportation, secretary of state and the administration as to the importance of the current negotiations to our future. We hope that your engagement on this issue will ensure an even playing field and enable Minnesota to continue to compete in the global marketplace.
Charlie Weaver, executive director, Minnesota Business Partnership; Doug Loon, president, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce; Michael Langley, CEO, Greater MSP; Todd Klingel, CEO, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Matt Kramer, president, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.