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Delta to scrap 3 Narita routes, create China hub

NEW YORK -- Delta Air Lines is shutting down three routes to and from Tokyo's Narita Airport as a result of the expansion of international flights at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. The move is part of broader plans to establish a Chinese hub for service between North America and Asia.

The services to be canceled in late October consist of two international routes connecting Narita with New York and Bangkok, plus a domestic route to Kansai International Airport in Osaka.

With the end of flights between Narita and Bangkok, Delta will focus on connections with its Shanghai service. One such route connecting Bangkok and Shanghai is run by China Eastern Airlines, in which Delta owns a stake.

Delta is cutting Narita flights in light of "the significant advantages our competitors and their joint venture partners enjoy as a result of the aviation agreement between the U.S. and Japan," said Vinay Dube, senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region, in an interview on the carrier's website.

The February agreement grants five daytime service slots each to Japanese and American carriers at Haneda. That airport is considered a prime terminal for business-class travelers, since it is close to central Tokyo. Japan's ANA Holdings, an alliance partner of United Airlines, will launch a route between Haneda and New York starting in October. Haneda is set to add additional international flights by 2020.

Delta has been using Narita, located in Chiba Prefecture, as a hub for flights connecting North America and the Asia-Pacific region. But the competitive advantage of these routes has eroded. Customer traffic from Japan has been sluggish. Passenger service revenue generated by Asia-Pacific routes has fallen under year-earlier figures for 13 straight quarters through the April-June period.

In this environment, the carrier decided that it could no longer maintain the struggling Narita-New York route.

Delta inherited a large portion of its Narita hub from Northwest Airlines, which it absorbed in 2008. Given that Delta uses Narita as the gateway to Asia, it had protested the expansion of North American flights to and from Haneda.

ANA Holdings and Japan Airlines base domestic flights at Haneda. Both Japanese carriers and ANA partner United will have an easier time capturing travelers heading from Japan to North America. Delta had sought to financially back the rehabilitation of Japan's Skymark Airlines, which declared bankruptcy in January 2015, in order to gain access to passengers making flight connections at various locations in Japan. But Skymark creditors went with another sponsor.

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