The U.S. and Japanese governments postponed talks about access to one of Tokyo’s airports, the outcome of which Delta Air Lines said could threaten Minnesota’s only nonstop flight to Asia.
U.S. Department of Transportation officials decided to delay Tuesday’s scheduled meeting in which the agency and counterparts from Japan were expected to advance a plan to increase access for U.S. airlines at Tokyo’s close-in airport, called Haneda.
Delta says its rivals, American and United airlines, would benefit more from such a move because both have a Japanese partner airline. Carriers with a Japanese airline partner can sustain a handful of flights — all that any U.S. carrier would get in the Haneda expansion — using connecting flights with their partners.
But Delta, which lacks a Japanese airline partner, wouldn’t be able to survive at Haneda and might also see its operations at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport threatened.
Delta was not given a reason for the delay in the government discussions.
“The threat remains imminent,” said Kate Modolo, a Delta spokeswoman. “They are trying to figure out new dates to meet and the issue is as important as ever.”
A DOT spokeswoman said the U.S. requested the postponement in order to allow more time to evaluate the situation.
Last week, Minnesota politicians, including Gov. Mark Dayton, told the DOT that the expansion of Haneda routes would be unfair to Minnesota businesses and the state’s economy.
“After months of efforts to make the case for an even playing field for our state, I am encouraged that U.S. negotiators have postponed negotiations and I am hopeful they will use the time to reach an agreement that will work for Minnesotans,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement Tuesday.
Delta is concerned it would gradually lose some passengers to its competitors, especially those who may prefer flying into an airport that is much closer to downtown Tokyo.
If that happened, the airline says, its flights to Tokyo’s farther-out Narita airport would become unprofitable, including the nonstop from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The airline told the Metropolitan Airports Commission last month that its Japan operations would “quickly unravel” if the deal is approved and that it might be forced to cancel its daily flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Narita, which Delta picked up with its 2009 acquisition of Northwest Airlines.
Staff writer Allison Sherry contributed to this report.