With air traffic between the United States and Africa growing at more than 5% annually, the United States air carrier Delta Air Lines is steadily increasing its flights to the continent in response to strong customer demand.
In an October 4 interview, Landers attributed that growth to three key factors: strong economic growth across the African continent, the large number of African-born American citizens who are now traveling back and forth to Africa on personal and business travel, and increased investment in the continent’s oil and natural resource industries. “All of those together are driving growth,” he said.
Although Africa is growing from a fairly small base in comparison to Europe, Asia or other developed markets, Landers said, “in percentage terms, Africa is probably one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.”
“There has been an underserved U.S.-Africa demand for many years that historically has not had many options for service other than circuitous routings through Europe,” Landers said. “We began to fill that void in 2006” by beginning service to Johannesburg from Atlanta via Dakar. “Now that flight operates nonstop and has been very successful.”
Delta announced September 29 that it will add an eighth destination to its Africa route network with direct service between the United States and Luanda, Angola. Delta has grown from 22 weekly departures to and from Africa in the summer of 2007 to nearly 80 for the same time this year.
With its winter 2010–2011 schedule, Delta will operate flights to eight African destinations: Accra, Ghana; Abuja, Nigeria; Cairo, Egypt; Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg, South Africa; Lagos, Nigeria; Luanda, Angola; and Monrovia, Liberia. Delta also intends to serve Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and Nairobi, Kenya, once additional U.S. government approvals are received.
“With our entrance to Angola via Dakar, we once again will serve Senegal from both Atlanta and New York, creating another double gateway to Africa with service from two hubs in the United States,” Landers said. Delta also serves Accra from New York and Atlanta. Monrovia is an emerging destination, currently visited one day a week via Ghana. Landers said the Monrovia flight is playing an important role in helping Liberia to rebuild and he voiced hope that its frequency will be expanded in the near future.
Africa is critical to Delta Air Lines because “having a diverse flight network is important,” Landers said. “When there are economic downturns in other regions of the world, our business goal is to be diversified across all the continents to protect ourselves from regional downturns.”
“One of the great things about airlines is that our assets are mobile, so if situations require the adjustment of our network it is very easy to do so. But, by and large, we have been very pleased with Africa over the last four years.
“When we first entered the market, we immediately saw load factors, or the percentage of our seats filled, at 80 percent or greater, and that led us to continue to expand across the continent.
“In July 2007, Delta had 97 departures to Africa from the U.S. In July 2010, we had 320, so we tripled in size in three years,” Lander said. “We believe our hubs give us the right strength. New York has a very large local market [of people wanting to travel to Africa] and Atlanta, being the world’s largest passenger hub, gives us the ability to connect pretty much every community in America to Africa with one stop.”
Americans traveling to Africa, he said, choose Delta for time savings. “If you look at the Atlanta-Johannesburg nonstop rather than connecting in Europe, you save an average of six hours in each direction. So on a roundtrip we are giving 12 hours back” to the traveler, he said. “There is great benefit to more direct routings to Africa.”
Helping to pave Delta’s expansion into Africa have been many of its employees, some of whom were formerly with Pan American World Airways, Landers said. Delta acquired Pan Am’s trans-Atlantic routes in 1991 when the airline ceased worldwide operations.
(On May 20, 1939, Pan Am launched the first U.S. passenger air service to Europe. As the United States entered into World War II, Pan Am began providing military transport of U.S. troops into Europe, Africa and Asia. As the war ended, Pan Am went on to establish passenger and cargo routes throughout the continents of Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America and became one of the world’s premier international airlines before its demise.)
“We have a lot of people with many years of experience in developing African markets and who are very familiar with the business environment and how to be successful in Africa, and that has paid off for us. … Pan Am really paved the way to Africa.”
Landers said Delta is expanding its partnerships with African airlines. Kenya Airways is now a full-fledged member of the Sky Team Alliance and Landers said Delta is working with other African carriers such as Air Nigeria and TAAG Angola to explore and expand code sharing (allowing single bookings across multiple airlines).