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US, Japan reach agreement that could doom Twin Cities flights to Tokyo

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The Twin Cities' nonstop air link with Asia could be doomed after an agreement was reached between Japan and the U.S. to open up another airport to more international flights.

Delta had warned its direct flights between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Tokyo's Narita Airport would probably be scrapped as increasing services between the U.S. and Tokyo Haneda Airport would render the service unprofitable.

Minnesota legislators including Gov. Mark Dayton and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar had lobbied the government to renegotiate the deal to save the service, but USA Today reports an agreement between the nations was reached on Thursday.

It will mean Haneda, seen as more desirable as it's closer to downtown Tokyo, will be opened up to more U.S. airline daytime services, removing existing restrictions that mean U.S. carriers depart or arrive during overnight hours.

The deal benefits Delta's rivals United and American, who unlike Delta have Japanese airline partners and are likely to attract travelers away from the Narita-MSP route in favor of other U.S. hubs.

About 90 percent of travelers from Tokyo to the Twin Cities connect to other domestic flights at MSP.

In a statement reported by the Bloomberg, Delta said it 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.

"Delta will make a careful assessment and adjust our network accordingly."

The Star Tribune reports Delta expects to lose many of its Tokyo passengers from New York and Los Angeles to other airlines, which it says will "ripple across to its other five U.S. ports with nonstops to Narita."

An open letter to Vice President Joe Biden from business representatives was published in the Star Tribune on Thursday as the he arrived for a visit to St. Paul, saying the many Fortune 500 companies located in Minnesota rely on the link to bring commerce to the state.

"We implore you, Mr. Vice President, to engage the president and the administration on this issue," it says.

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