News

Delta heads for Down Under

20 Dec 2008

From July 3, 2009, Delta Airlines will begin a daily non-stop service between Sydney and Los Angeles. Services will operate daily from Los Angeles, utilising two-class (Business and Economy) long-range Boeing B777-200s. The aircraft will be fitted with the US carrier’s latest seating including fully flat-bed seating in Business Class featuring the herringbone layout.

Flight DL17 will commence on July 1 departing from Los Angeles at 2240 to arrive in Sydney (after crossing the international date line) at 0640 two days later.

Return flight DL16 will depart on July 3 at 0915 from Sydney to reach Los Angeles at 0600 the same day.

Delta’s entry to the route is likely to spark off intense competition on a route long dominated by Australia’s flag carrier Qantas and United. Newcomer V Australia earlier said it would launch daily services to LAX on March 20, 2009.

With its merger with Northwest Airlines completed recently, Delta not only became the world’s largest airline, but also the new owner of 15 routes outside the US.

Last November, the airline had said that from June 2009, it intended to expand its services beyond its domestic US stronghold (which is experiencing recession) to regions that continue to show growth such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East from June 2009. (See News, 14/11/08)

Delta will also begin a non-stop service between LAX and Sao Paulo, Brazil beginning May 21, 2009. The new Sao Paulo service would complement the thrice weekly non-stop flights currently flown by Korean Air, an airline alliance partner.

The Delta move Down Under is good news for Skyteam fans because this alliance is not well represented there, compared with oneworld and Star. It’s also good news for travellers who book RTW (round-the-world) tickets via Australasia. At present, no Skyteam member offers a transpacific link between Australasia and North America.

But Delta will find operating this route tough. With non-stop flight times of over 14 hours between Los Angeles to Sydney, over 13 hours on the return and a distance of 7,500 miles this is one of the longest non-stop sectors in the world. Many of the passengers are travelling for leisure reasons so yields (earnings) per seat can be relatively low. In the past, two other US carriers, American and Continental, both served Sydney from Los Angeles but both failed to make a profit and had to withdraw. And both Qantas and United are well entrenched in this sector.

United is currently reconfiguring its B747-400s (the craft it uses on the transpacific) with new seating while Qantas (which also uses B747-400s) is now drafting in factory-fresh A380s. Initially, Qantas is operating the super jumbo three times a week, but this could be stepped up to six a week by the summer. Unlike Delta, both these carriers will offer a First Class product with Qantas also providing Premium Economy.

Value-for-money carrier Virgin Australia expects to be operating its daily service with B777-300ERs in a three- class layout (Business, Premium Economy and Economy).

So with the addition of many more seats there is certain to be overcapacity from next summer. Good news for passengers (because fares will tumble), but not such good news for the airlines concerned.

For more information go to, www.delta.com, www.qantas.com, www.united.com and www.vaustralia.com.au.

Alex McWhirter and He Ruiming

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