Delta Bets Big on Global Growth

Delta Air Lines ( DAL) announced 15 new international routes Wednesday, making a bet that its suddenly vast global network will enhance its ability to take advantage of promising markets.

Wasting no time following its merger with Northwest, Delta said three of the flights will originate from its hubs and go to the Northwest hub at Tokyo's Narita Airport.

Senior Vice President Glen Hauenstein told reporters during a news conference that Delta is "always adding new things that have high potential, and we are taking out the bottom performers."

The new flights will begin next summer with a mix of 767-400s taken from domestic service, newly delivered 777LRs, and a few planes taken from discontinued international routes.

Delta also announced a 14.5% capacity increase between its four hubs and Northwest's three hubs, saying the increased connectivity will allow for more changes down the line. "The first thing is to make sure conduits are open for connecting traffic," Hauenstein said.

Additionally, Delta unveiled plans for eight new flights to Africa. Delta is the only U.S. carrier in Africa, the largest trans-Atlantic carrier and, following the merger, the largest U.S. carrier to Asia, eclipsing UAL ( UAUA) unit United.

In touting the merger, executives said frequently that a major advantage was the ability to funnel Delta traffic through Northwest's Tokyo hub. On Wednesday, Delta said it will add Tokyo flights from Atlanta, New York's Kennedy Airport and Salt Lake City.

The single New York flight means "we take ourselves from not being an Asian player in New York to being the No. 1 Asian carrier," Hauenstein said. Atlanta will get a second Tokyo flight. Also, Delta will add a Tokyo-Ho Chi Minh City flight, taking advantage of Northwest's rights to fly routes directly from Tokyo.

Salt Lake City, with a population around 180,000 and a metro area of 1.2 million, will become the smallest U.S. city ever to have nonstop service to Tokyo. The city, which Delta has built into a hub for the mountain region, already has a Paris flight.

New destinations in Africa will include Abuja, Nigeria; Luanda, Angola; and Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, via Cape Verde. Allo told, Delta will serve 12 African destinations, eight from Atlanta and four from Kennedy. "We're seeing incredible growth rates in Africa, business traffic and ethnic traffic," said Senior Vice President Bob Cortelyou. The Northwest merger will provide new feeds to Delta's Africa flights.

Across the Atlantic, Delta is adding flights from Kennedy to Prague; Valencia, Spain; Zurich; and Gutenberg, Switzerland, the largest trans-Atlantic market that lacks nonstop service.

Regarding Cincinnati, which has been downsized from about 700 daily departures to 263, Hauenstein said it will remain a hub "into perpetuity." He said reducing the number of "banks," or arrival and departure clusters, from nine to five means that each bank can offer a wide variety of connections. "We sized it correctly," he said.

The merger means that Delta passes AMR ( AMR) unit American as the world's largest airline, although it does not expect to have a combined operating certificate for one to two years.

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