Air France, KLM Eye Delta Focus Cities for U.S. Expansion

Jul 19, 2019

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Air France and KLM are considering adding service to one of partner Delta Air Lines growing number of focus cities in the U.S., as the carriers eye further growth across the North Atlantic.

Atlanta-based Delta considers Austin (AUS), Cincinnati (CVG), Nashville (BNA), Raleigh/Durham (RDU), and San Jose (SJC) in California focus cities that complement its network of hubs. While the level of Delta operations varies across the five airports, each has a strong local economic environment that the airline sees as an opportunity for further investment.

“We definitely have a few of those cities in mind,” said Bas Gerressen, senior vice-president of North America at Air France-KLM, on Delta’s focus cities. He was speaking at Washington Dulles airport on Thursday, where he was inaugurating the SkyTeam carriers’ expanded lounge.

Gerressen declined to elaborate on what cities Air France and KLM are looking at, saying the group has yet to decide whether it will add new North American routes next year. However, he added that there “will not be a decrease” in capacity in 2020.

Delta already flies to Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) from both Cincinnati and Raleigh/Durham, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. No SkyTeam carrier serves Austin, Nashville or San Jose from Europe, while Oneworld alliance member British Airways serves all three from London Heathrow (LHR).

Gerressen said the evaluation of U.S. destinations for new Air France or KLM flights includes considering the competitive environment and whether the cities can support multiple flights to Europe.

Air France and KLM operate under a joint venture with Alitalia and Delta between Europe and the U.S. that allows them to act as essentially a single carrier in the market. The four airlines coordinate capacity across the Atlantic with an aim to balance growth across the partners.

Transatlantic capacity is scheduled to grow by 4.2% year-over-year on Air France and KLM in 2019, and by 4% on the four partners combined, Diio schedules show.

New routes this year include Air France flights to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), and KLM flights to Las Vegas (LAS).

An updated joint venture with Delta may affect Air France and KLM’s transatlantic growth plans for 2020. The new deal, which is awaiting U.S. regulatory approval, adds Virgin Atlantic Airways while dropping Alitalia pending the Italian carrier’s restructuring.

Gerressen said the carriers expect approval “before November,” which could allow them to jointly plan summer 2020 schedules.

Alitalia is likely to rejoin the partnership in the newly created role of “associate member,” Alitalia chief business officer Fabio Lazzerini told FlightGlobal in May.

“It’s kind of plug and play, and Alitalia would be the first one to plug on,” says Gerressen when asked about the associate membership.

Gerressen does not provide a timeline for when Alitalia could rejoin the joint venture, however it would be after the core members launch the updated partnership.

Featured image by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images.

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