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Delta Air Lines Introduces Triangular Route for South Africa

A Delta A350. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ben Suskind)

Delta Air Lines is planning to introduce a new route from the United States to South Africa that would put another destination in high demand on its map. On Dec. 2, the Atlanta-based carrier will launch a new triangular route linking its main base at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport to Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The route to Cape Town has been on Delta’s wish list for a very long time, but the market turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the restrictions imposed by the South African Government on international travel put the plans on hold for almost two years. The non-stop flight to Johannesburg that was in place before the pandemic was operated with a Boeing 777 aircraft, but Delta is not operating this aircraft type any longer so it will be the new Airbus A350 aircraft to fly the route.

This required some creativity on behalf of the flight planning department at Delta since the aircraft does not have the capability to fly non-stop from Johannesburg to Atlanta at full capacity. In fact, the largest city in South Africa’s O.R. Tambo Airport is located at an altitude of 5,558 feet or 1,694 meters above sea level, slightly higher than Denver, and this heavily affects aircraft performance at take-off considerably reducing the aircraft range. Therefore, Delta has planned to fly a short sector to Cape Town, which is at sea level, where the A350 aircraft would be refueled before its return flight to Atlanta.

Since the bilateral agreement between the U.S. and South Africa does not allow for cabotage, i.e. does not allow foreign carriers to operate domestic flights within another country, Delta Air Lines will not sell the domestic sector within South Africa, but nonetheless, this solution will allow the U.S. carrier to include the beautiful Cape Town in the list of its destinations.

Extra Frequencies Needed

The plan encountered the opposition of United Airlines — who sought approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) — to operate three times a week from Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport to Cape Town, South Africa, in addition to their daily service from Newark, N.J. However, the bilateral agreement regulating services from the U.S to South Africa would only allow 21 flights per week, and there were only four frequencies per week available to be assigned, and these new services was requiring an extra six frequencies per week.

In fact, Delta’s plan is to operate the triangular flight from Atlanta to Cape Town, South Africa through Johannesburg four times a week. The carrier will supplement the operation with three extra non-stop frequencies from Atlanta to Cape Town so that the coastal town in South Africa could get a daily service. However, this would require authorization for the three extra flights a week to Cape Town, South Africa.

The DOT was able to negotiate with its South African counterpart to increase the number of allowed frequencies to 23 so that both United and Delta could go ahead with their plans. United will start its new service from Dulles Airport to Cape Town on Nov. 18.

“As demand for travel increases, we’ll be offering our largest-ever schedule between South Africa and the U.S. this summer. Thanks to this added connectivity, customers will have access to more than 160 cities in North and South America, giving people even more opportunities to reconnect or expand business ties between our two countries, which U.S. Government data estimated to be worth $17.8 billion in 2019,” Jimmy Eichelgruen, Delta’s Director of Sales for Africa, the Middle East and India, said, to Simple Flying.

Vanni Gibertini


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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