Delta Air Lines aircraft
Africa and Middle East are dubbed the regions with the fastest growing air transport market in the world. This is an incentive for world mega carriers to jostle to become top players in these regions. For US major carrier, Delta Air Lines, which wants to be a top player in the African continent, it is not all about ferrying passengers across the globe, but showing commitment to this growing market. Chinedu Eze reports.
US major carrier Delta Air Lines has operated in Africa for six years. In those six years, it has invested in Senegal, Ghana and in Nigeria. Also during the period, it has signed code share agreement with two indigenous airlines.
This is different from what obtains with other world carriers that operate into Africa. Some of them have been operating into the continent for over sixty years without investing a dime in any country in the continent.
As the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, said recently that Nigeria is open for exploration but not for exploitation and slammed those airlines which come to rip off Nigerian passengers through inflated illegal fuel surcharge.
Delta Air Lines said that it believes in building partnerships and it has shown that in the countries it is operating in the African continent.
The airline’s vice president in charge of alliances, Charlie Pappas told THISDAY in Atlanta that it has partnership with Nigeria’s carrier, Air Nigeria. He lauded the airline’s development and said that Delta would continue to strengthen its relationship with the Nigeria airline, which consecutively won the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification three consecutive times.
“The Air Nigeria partnership extends each of our networks to provide a better combined product offer to the customers of Western Africa and the US.”
Pappas noted that the two airlines are working together to expand “our partnership and provide more benefits to the market.”
This, he said, would improve connecting facilities at airports such as Lagos which is key to enhancing cooperation with the West African region.
Air Nigeria with about 11 aircraft in its fleet has in the last three years dominated the West and Central African regions and Delta Air Lines believes that the partnership with the Nigerian carrier would grow beyond regional cooperation.
“We are delighted to start codeshare services with Air Nigeria, a key partner in Africa, which will expand travel options and increase customer choice,” said Perry Cantarutti, Delta’s senior vice president Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Africa remains a key part of Delta’s international network strategy and the codeshare with Air Nigeria will bring increased access between destinations in West and Central Africa and the United States.”
The two airlines are also planning to start a reciprocal frequent flyer agreement that allows customers from Delta's SkyMiles and Air Nigeria’s eagleflier®programs to earn and redeem miles for flights.
“This code share arrangement is strategically important for Air Nigeria as it complements the objective of the airline to provide seamless service for passengers flying between West Africa and the U.S.A”, said Kinfe Kahssaye, Air Nigeria’s Chief Executive Officer. He further noted that “the cooperation will also pave the way for Nigeria to be the gate way between Africa and USA and further develop trade and tourism between USA and Africa”.
Air Nigeria has a strong domestic and regional presence in the West and Central African region to complement Delta Air Lines network.
Also Delta has Kenya Airways as its anchor in the East African region and as member of Sky Team, the African airlines has over 50 destinations with over 40 points in African. It also has modern fleet.
“Delta has a strong bilateral relationship with Kenya Airways, which include frequent flyer, lounge and strong interline sales,” Pappas said.
Growth in Africa
Although the African market has not become very strong yet, but the destinations where Delta operates in the continent have shown steady growth. These destinations include Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, Accra in Ghana, Monrovia in Liberia and Dakar in Senegal. In the period it has operated in the continent it has transported over 2.5 million passengers and in Nigeria the airline offers hospitality to passengers before flight.
This service was started this year and it offers unusual hospitality to passengers. And this is the way it is done. The airline takes the passengers to one of the top hotels near the Lagos airport where they relax, enjoy the hotel’s services and are driven to the airport to board the flight. This is a rare offering, the passengers who spoke to THISDAY affirmed, remarking that such service had never come by in the past from any of the foreign carriers.
Cantarutti also disclosed to THISDAY that Delta is committing $2 billion (N320 billion) to flat beds in the business class.
Also, the airline’s sales manager, West and East Africa, Bobby Bryan, explained that Delta would roll out a new full flat-bed BusinessElite seat on flights to African destinations.
“The improvements are part of its ongoing plan to invest more than $2 billion in enhanced global products, services and airport facilities through to 2013,” he disclosed.
“Delta is enhancing its onboard product on more than 150 aircraft to offer full flat-bed seating in BusinessElite on all international widebody flights.”
Delta Air Lines offers to its customers more choices, frequencies and convenient schedules on 260 daily flights operated by 144 aircraft; convenient access to nearly 300 destinations in North America and close to 200 destinations in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
The airline also offers competitive fares, harmonized ground and inflight services and the opportunities to earn miles and upgrade on joint venture flights with the Flying Blue, MilleMiglia and SkyMiles frequent flyer programme.
High Oil Prices
Jeff Lobi, Managing Director, network planning, transatlantic and joint venture, said in an interview that high oil price remains a big issue in air transport, noting that that its operations in Africa could be described as successful, considering the number of passengers air lifted in the few years it started operation.
Also, the airline which started making profit two years ago after a period of bankruptcy, would consider opening more routes in Africa, depending on the viability of such routes.
Lobi observed that Delta which pioneered direct flight from Nigeria, Lagos to the United States, relieved the many Nigerian customers who would hitherto connect the US from the many hubs in Europe. That inconvenience was erased by Delta, which now opened the gate for another US carrier.
He remarked that competition is good because it helps to give the customer the best service as everyone strives to be better.
Delta is optimistic about its African destinations and that is one of the reasons it is investing in the continent, not only in improving service and facilities at the airports where it operates from, but also in human resource development.
Expanded Airport Facilities
The airline also continues to improve its facilities at its Atlanta operational hub. Delta is putting finishing touches to its ultramodern terminal, known as Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal at the cost of over $1.4 billion.
The terminal project was begun 2008 and is expected to be officially opened on the May 16, 2012 with the second tallest control tower in the world and most modern airport facilities in the West.
The terminal stands uniquely with its sweeping roofline, gentle metallic curves and glass façade and is expected to welcome millions of world travelers for decades to come.
The terminal is the 5th concourse of the Atlanta international airport, which is the busiest airport in the United States of America with over 1000 daily departures to 215 destinations.
The airport is the operating hub of Delta Air Lines that operates into Lagos and Abuja and has a record of 4, 464 daily flights from different airports in the world, 80, 000 employees, annual passengers of over 160 million and over 1400 aircraft.
Conducting journalists round the terminal, the Spokesman, Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. International Terminal, Atlanta, Mr. Snedeker Albert said the airline sourced funds for the building of the project from government bonds, direct bank loans and partnership.
According to Albert, the project includes 1.2 million square feet international terminal, 12-gate international Concourse F connected to Concourse E through train and connecting tunnel, two new parking structures providing more than 3, 700 spaces for vehicles.
“The combination of the new and existing facilities creates a 40-gate international travel gateway with a customer experience that will mirror or exceed the current high Atlanta standards. The usage of the terminal will also eliminate the baggage recheck process for Atlanta-bound international passengers.
“Besides, international customers checking-in at the new facility will experience efficient lobby flow, a dedicated security checkpoint and access to a new Sky Club ticket counters, ticketing kiosks, Delta and OAL’s 23 positions among many other facilities.”
On completion, he said the facilities would be used by all the Skyteam partners like Lufthansa, British Airways and Air South Canada among others, adding that the terminal could handle tens of thousands of passengers daily.
Also, the Regional Director, Corporate Communications, Delta Air Lines, Olivia Cullis explained that since the airline commenced flight operations to Nigeria about five years ago, it has recorded steady growth, in spite of competition.
She said that its partnership with Air Nigeria has helped Delta to grow in the continent with the sales of its ticket on flight between Accra and Abuja by the airline.
“Air Nigeria is a fantastic airline, which has been developing with good safety records and good reputation in Africa especially with affiliation to many international safety aviation organizations. The airline is one of the best three on the continent of Africa and I’m sure, its successes would increase in the next couple of years.”
Delta Air Lines serves more than 160 million customers each year. It has won so many awards for its good services to its customers; its efficiency and largely on time departures.
Delta and Delta Connection carriers offer service to 343 destinations in 62 countries on six continents.