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Twin Cities could lose nonstop flights to Tokyo under airports proposal

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Minnesota's direct link to Asia could disappear, as a possible airports deal between the U.S. and Japan could bring the curtain down on nonstop flights between the Twin Cities and Tokyo.

Delta, the biggest carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, took over the route to Tokyo's Narita Airport in 2009 after buying Northwest Airlines. The Star Tribune says the Twin Cities have had a direct flight to Japan since 1947.

But the route is under threat now, with the Business Journal reporting the Japanese and U.S. governments are in talks to open up Tokyo International Airport in Haneda to more carriers, moving traffic away from Narita.

If this happens, Delta will almost certainly scrap the route, which a spokesperson told the Business Journal would be a big blow to major Minnesota-based businesses that would lose a vital link to a huge market.

"We know we're going to lose a lot of traffic if Haneda opens up," Ben Hirst, Delta's special counsel, told MPR News. "And there is not a lot of traffic to lose because there are only 3,000 passengers per day each way between the U.S. and Tokyo."

How would the deal hurt the MSP route?

The move would open up Haneda – which is closer to downtown Tokyo – to more international routes offered by rivals United and American Airlines, which Delta says would make its route from MSP unprofitable, the Star Tribune reports.

Delta also stands to lose some of its 13 flights per day to and from Narita under the deal, MPR says, while the 90 percent of travelers from Japan who use the MSP route to connect to other U.S. cities are more likely to move to other airlines operating from Haneda.

The Detroit News reports airlines in other Asian countries would most likely change their flights to Tokyo from Narita to Haneda under the deal, meaning fewer available connections for those traveling to Japan from Minneapolis.

Negotiations between U.S. and Japanese aviation officials about the proposed changes will be held on Feb. 9 and 10, the newspaper notes.

It comes as Delta has enjoyed an otherwise purple patch of trading, with the company – which uses MSP as one of its major U.S. hubs – announcing record fourth quarter profits this week thanks mainly to the plunging price of fuel.

The company saw its net profits rise 51 percent from last year to $926 million.

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