On Thursday, the board of the Governor's Office of Economic Development agreed to give Delta $250,000 after the airline broached the idea of starting a route from its Salt Lake City hub to Japan's capital, GOED Executive Director Jason Perry said.
The money would be added to a $2 million incentive package being assembled by an alliance of public and private groups, including Salt Lake City International Airport and Salt Lake County, Perry said.
"Should the incentive be accepted by them, I would expect an announcement of their intent to start this flight in the very near future, with the flight to actually begin some time next year," he said.
Delta spokesman Anthony Black said the Paris route launched last June has been a hit with travelers. Because the route proved itself, the Atlanta-based carrier now is "interested in exploring additional international opportunities," he said.
Black refused to say where Delta may fly to next, but he said any route "likely would focus on other hubs where we either have a partner there or have a natural system to feed flights in or out of."
GOED's readiness to help Delta comes as the Atlanta-based carrier is about to consummate its proposed merger with Northwest Airlines. The combination would create the world's biggest carrier and give Delta a toehold at Tokyo's Narita International Airport, where Northwest has a hub.
Earlier this year, Delta executives said more international flights might be possible if the Paris route made a tidy profit for the airline. While the airline isn't publicly saying it will fly to Tokyo, it apparently is serious. Companies don't usually approach GOED unless they are close to making a decision.
In April, Delta President Ed Bastian said Amsterdam, where Northwest also has a hub, might be a candidate. A month later, Glen Hauenstein, executive vice president of network planning and revenue management, said the airline might be flying to Tokyo in 2011.
On Thursday, another possibility emerged: London.
"We are still discussing the possibilities, and this is one," said airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann.
Gann said the airport's part of the Tokyo incentive package is $1.4 million, including fee waivers and marketing support. The airport presented its offer to Delta on Oct. 1, she said.
Perry said passengers are snapping up seats on the daily flights between Salt Lake and Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris.
In its request to GOED, Delta said a Tokyo flight would make other Asian markets including South Korea and China more accessible to Utah businesses. Delta said the economic impact of the route would exceed $90 million a year and would potentially create at least 1,100 jobs in Utah's economy.
"This Tokyo flight shows the [Delta-Northwest] merger will be a good thing for the state of Utah, and that Salt Lake City is an important hub to Delta," Perry said.