Thousands of factors contribute to Minnesota’s vital economy. One of them is the direct Delta Air Lines flight from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Tokyo and the access it provides to Asian markets beyond.
But Delta executives warn that this competitive advantage may not last if a proposed agreement between the U.S. and Japanese governments erodes the airline’s ability to compete with United and American, the two other major U.S.-based carriers serving Tokyo. Minnesota executives and elected officials — as well as those from Detroit, Atlanta and Portland, which may also lose direct Tokyo flights — should continue to push back against an agreement that could ultimately limit consumer choice and hurt regional economies.
On the surface, the proposed agreement brings good news. Japan would open up Haneda Airport to daytime U.S. flights. Haneda is 13 miles from central Tokyo, while Narita, which currently handles most international traffic, is 46 miles away. But because United and American have Japanese carriers as partners, they would receive the bulk of the benefit and would likely quickly steal significant market share from Delta.
That shift, Delta executives argue, would likely siphon off enough fliers that it would render its Narita operations unprofitable and eventually end the direct flights from MSP and six other U.S. airports. That’s capitalism, some may say. Well, not exactly. A more competitive capitalism would allow all three carriers to be based at Haneda, where Delta says there is ample capacity.
State Department negotiators should press harder. To be sure, there would be advantages for some Tokyo-bound fliers to avoid the long trip from Narita. But if doing so would mean less competition — and eventually higher costs — the price may not be worth it.
Most important, the U.S. government should not enter into agreements that may result in some cities, regions and states becoming winners and others losers. Should the Twin Cities, with its vital medical technology, agribusiness and other industries be without a direct flight? And what of Detroit and the necessity of direct Asian access for the auto industry?
“Public-policy wise and competition-wise, they would be much better off being more aggressive instead of giving in to a deal that doesn’t really advance things much at all, and just helps one airline over another,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is part of a bipartisan congressional effort to fight the proposed changes.
Klobuchar and others on the right side of the issue need to act fast in advance of the next round of negotiations slated to start on Feb. 9. Minnesotans can compete with any region in the world, but only when the rules are fair for all competitors.