US airline Delta eyes Cape Town route

Delta, one of the major US airlines, has applied to fly to Cape Town as part of its already existing direct flight to Johannesburg.

Olivia Cullis, regional director of international communication, told Fin24 on Friday that Delta is reviewing its network in South Africa following the announcement that it will retire its Boeing 777 fleet, which operated on its non-stop route between Atlanta and Johannesburg.

Deon Cloete, general manager of Cape Town International Airport, confirmed that they are aware of the application.

"We are pleased with Delta's intentions to operate via Cape Town. We welcome that, and will support them. It is early days, yet and there is some due process that must be followed in order for them to obtain the necessary approvals from the Department of Transport," said Cloete. "Direct flights to the US is a prime route for as it is a very important market for Cape Town."

Only once the department has approved the application, will there be a slot approval process to determine the frequencies of the flights.

Cloete said both existing international routes, as well as any new ones, will only be able to fly again once Covid-19 flight bans are lifted by the government.

Aviation consultant Andreas Spaeth said that Delta is phasing out its Boeing 777-200LRs with long range capability. To replace it, the Airbus A350 is being deployed.

"As the airline lacks its ultra long haul version, it can't do the return flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta non-stop due to Johannesburg's altitude preventing full payload at the same time as haviing full fuel tanks for the A350," said Spaeth.

"To keep the Johannesburg route, Delta wants to make a stop in Cape Town on the return to the US. Cape Town is located at sea level, so the aircraft can be fully fueled and loaded."

United, another major US airline, started its seasonal non-stop route between Cape Town and the New York area's Newark Airport in December last year. The seasonal flights ended just ahead of the start of the lockdown period in South Africa in March.

City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee member Alderman James Vos commented that, before the Covid-19 crisis hit, the Mother City had secured numerous new flight routes connecting it to more and more cities across the globe, bringing more tourists and allowing the export of local goods.

"My team and I are working hard, using all avenues available, to push for the safe reopening of the tourism and related sectors, to protect lives and livelihoods. I look forward to welcoming back our local and international tourists," Vos said in a social media post.

Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airline Association of Southern Africa, looks forward to the opening up of SA's borders when appropriate and welcoming back operations by South African and international airlines.

"After all the challenges that we have experienced with the prohibition on scheduled flights to and from South Africa, it is certainly encouraging to see that international airlines are making plans to recommence operations to South Africa and in Delta Airlines case, even to expand their operations to include Cape Town together with OR Tambo International," he said.

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