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Transportation

Delta moves Japan hub to Haneda from Narita for Tokyo access

Shift part of airport's expanded role ahead of 2020 Summer Olympics

A Delta plane sits at Narita International Airport, long Japan's main gateway for global flights. (Photo by Akiyoshi Inoue)

NEW YORK -- Delta Air Lines will shift its hub for flights to Japan to Tokyo's Haneda Airport from Narita International Airport by March 2020, in a move timed with an expected surge of travelers headed to the Summer Olympics.

Calling Haneda the "closest and most convenient airport" to Tokyo, Delta said Friday that the move would make it the largest American carrier serving the hub, with seven flights daily from the U.S. mainland and Hawaii.

Rivals American Airlines and United Airlines are also planning to increase flights to and from Haneda, which lies about 15 km from the city center, compared with 57 km for Narita in neighboring Chiba Prefecture.

"It's a win for our customers, giving them much quicker access to the city center," said Steve Sear, Delta's global sales president, in a statement.

The airline hopes the move will be attractive to its mainstay business travelers.

Delta will shift all of its Narita flights from five U.S. cities, including Atlanta and Seattle, to Haneda. Delta will end routes connecting Narita with Singapore in September this year, and with Manila in March next year.

Japan agreed to launch new routes to expand Haneda's international flight slots ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo after Washington said it would allow commercial flights to pass through airspace controlled by the U.S. Yokota Air Base.

International slots will rise to 99,000 a year in 2020 from the current 60,000. This translates into about 50 additional flights a day, accommodating 7 million more passengers a year. Twenty-four -- about half the increase -- were allocated to U.S.-Japan routes.

U.S. carriers were allocated an increase of 12 slots per day. Following applications submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation in February, Delta appears to have received the biggest number of slots at five. Japan routes are important for U.S. airlines because of the long distance that translates to higher ticket prices.

Hawaiian Airlines also announced on Friday that it received approval from the U.S. Transportation Department and would increase the number of Haneda-Honolulu routes from the summer of 2020. American Airlines also received approval for routes connecting Haneda with Dallas and Los Angeles, U.S. media reported. United was also approved for four routes connecting Haneda to American airports including Newark.

While United and American Airlines are partnering with Japanese airlines, Delta has been cooperating with Korean Air in the SkyTeam airline alliance. It has shifted its transit destination for flights between North America and Asia to South Korea's Incheon Airport from Narita.

Akihiko Tamura, the chief executive of Narita Airport, Japan's main international hub, expressed concern about losing travelers after Haneda's slot expansion at a news conference in June.

"North American routes, for instance, will likely shift to Haneda," Tamura said. "If fares are similar, Haneda will end up being chosen."

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