Delta Air Lines to fill gaps in network with Mumbai-JFK flight, domestic pacts

FE Bureau

Delta Air Lines is looking to fill the gap in its international network with the new flights from Mumbai to New York, Jimmy Eichelgruen, director of sales for Africa, Middle East and India, Delta Airlines, said.

The airline has signed an interline agreement with Vistara and is also in talks with SpiceJet and IndiGo for commercial agreements, said another airline official. An interline agreement allows involved airlines to handle passengers travelling to multiple destinations.

"We're a global airline, but when you look at the map there is one key area where there was a gap was India. It’s a market we have to serve…We stopped our flights earlier because we were not making money, plus there were pressures from various Open Skies agreements. With the US government, things have improved now and there is more of a fairer sky. As the market size is fairly stable in India, you’ve got 1.3 million (passengers, one-way, annually) in either direction…we have got a forecast and we are optimistic that we will be achieving those forecasts. The advance bookings look very positive, and that to us is a key indicator," Eichelgruen told FE.

Almost 1.4 million Americans visited India in 2017, accounting for nearly 14% of India’s foreign tourist arrivals. In 2018, there were around 1.38 million overseas visitors from India to the US, making it the 10th highest visiting nation to the US. The airline is starting the daily non-stop flights from December 24, and the lowest fare would be around Rs. 58,000. Delta will operate a renovated Boeing 777-200LR on this route.

Delta has partnered with Air France and Virgin Atlantic, and had commercial ties with Jet Airways before Jet was grounded in April. Between 2006 and 2009, Delta Air Line flew non-stop flights between India and the US. Later, the airline operated one-stop flights to the US via Amsterdam, which stopped in 2015, as a consequence of carriers like Emirates and Etihad Airways carrying a larger share of the traffic on the route with cheaper fares.

Delta, along with other major American airlines, raised issues with the US government regarding cheaper fares of West Asian carriers. Last year, an agreement between the US and the UAE to address some of their issues, including subsidised fares which ate into traffic of US carriers through fifth freedom rights. According to the fifth freedom of the air, formed after the Convention on International Civil Aviation,1944, allows an airline to carry traffic between foreign nations connecting through the airline's own country. The agreement between US and the UAE also aided Delta's move to resume non-stop flights between Mumbai and the US, an airline official said.

Eichelgruen said Delta Airline was looking to expand regional network in India. "We do have an existing interline agreement with Air India, we have just concluded an interline agreement with Vistara. We are looking at other options as well," Eichelgruen said, adding that the next stage would be to explore code-share agreements with at least one of the Indian airlines. An interline agreement allows involved airlines to handle passengers travelling to multiple destinations.

When asked whether Delta will invest in Air India, Eichelgruen told FE that there were no plans at the moment, but "nothing is ruled out for Delta." Delta's largest hub in the US in in Atlanta, but the airline chose to start New York-Mumbai route because "there are more Indian Americans living in New York than in any other city in the USA, around 2,50,000 actually. It is very significant the number of passengers travelling in either direction. It is a good time for Delta to be in the market and reintroduce our non-stop service."