Delta looks west, adds nonstop flight to Tokyo

S.L.-Japan route will begin in June, run 5 times weekly

Published: Thursday, Nov. 13 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Delta Air Lines Inc. said Wednesday that it plans to add a nonstop trans-Pacific flight from Salt Lake City International Airport to the Tokyo-Narita International Airport in Japan.

The flight will begin June 3, 2009, and run five times weekly on an Airbus 330.

The Atlanta-based carrier credited its merger with Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines Corp. for creating the opportunity for new flights to Tokyo. Northwest has a hub at the Tokyo airport.

Utah business and government leaders said Wednesday they were pleased about the Tokyo flight, which may bring more visitors and business to Utah.

In mid-September, the Governor's Office of Economic Development led a trade mission to Japan with six Utah companies. After returning, GOED, the Utah Board of Tourism and Development, Salt Lake County and the airport allocated a $2 million incentive package to Delta to develop a marketing plan for the flights. The incentive package seems to have worked.

"Japan is Utah's fourth-largest trading partner with more than $400 million a year," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said in a prepared statement. "This new direct flight ties our capital cities together, expanding and strengthening the mutual economic foundations."

Lane Beattie, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Chamber, hopes for more international flights from Salt Lake City.

"The nonstop flight to Narita Tokyo is another example of Salt Lake City emerging as a world city," Beattie said. "We're working diligently to secure more international flights in the near future."

Delta also said Wednesday that it will begin daily service connecting customers to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, from Tokyo. Northwest currently flies to a handful of Asian cities from Tokyo. With the Ho Chi Minh flights, the new Delta will have service to nine of Asia's top 20 markets that were not served by Delta prior to the merger.

Salt Lake City International Airport is a hub for Delta and will remain so with the merged airline, which will be called Delta and will be based in Atlanta. The merger has cleared most regulatory hurdles. The two companies expect to receive a single Federal Aviation Administration certificate in 15 to 18 months.

Wednesday's announcement included expansion in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, although flights to those regions must be boarded from Delta hubs in Atlanta and New York.

Delta also said it will offer a third daily flight between Salt Lake City and Detroit, and new daily service between Salt Lake City and Memphis. The increase in connectivity between U.S. hubs is part of a 14.5 percent increase in capacity between the Delta and Northwest hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, New York and Memphis in January 2009 compared to the prior year. The domestic service increases are in part to prepare for the summer 2009 international flights.

Overseas expansion may help Delta blunt a drop in U.S. travel as businesses and consumers pare expenses. Adding international routes was a pillar of post-bankruptcy strategy for Delta and newly acquired Northwest Airlines Corp. when they left court protection last year. Flying outside the United States offers "a natural hedge where there is economic softness," Glen Hauenstein, executive vice president of network planning, said in a statement.

Traffic on Delta's main jet operations rose less than 1 percent in October, its smallest monthly gain this year. AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines each posted October traffic declines of more than 8 percent.

The combination of Delta, formerly the third-largest U.S. airline, and No. 6 Northwest surpassed American as the world's biggest carrier by traffic. The tie-up meshed Delta's Latin and European routes and Northwest's Pacific service, including access to Tokyo's restricted Narita airport.

Delta's shares tumbled $1.47, or 17 percent, to $7.37 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading as major U.S. indexes fell on Wednesday. The shares have fallen 51 percent this year.


Contributing: Bloomberg News; Associated Press.

E-MAIL: lhancock@desnews.com

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