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Delta leads US airlines' slow return to Mideast

Amman, June 7, 2008

Seven years since the Sept 11 hijack attacks which rocked the airline industry, Delta Air Lines is leading a slow return to the Arab world by US carriers.

International expansion has offered growth for some US airlines being squeezed by increasing competition at home, but Arab destinations have been overlooked in favour of surging markets such as China and India.

"The competition within the US is tougher and we believe in market growth in the world theatre and we want to be part of that," Tony Charaf, president of Delta Technical Operations, said in an interview.

On Friday, No.3 US carrier Delta started service linking New York and Amman, Jordan, marking only the second Arab route opened by a US airline since Sept 11.

One source of traffic in Amman comes from US contractors and others based in Iraq, a business which state carrier Royal Jordanian RJ has benefitted from. "There is a tremendous amount of growth in tourism, economy and educational between the United States and the Middle East and people need to travel," said Charaf.

Delta will operate four flights weekly between Amman and New York and in October will add Cairo-New York flights as well as service between Kuwait and Atlanta.

Two years ago it became the first US airline to resume regular flights to anywhere in the Middle East with service to Tel Aviv, followed by Dubai last year. "Dubai is doing very well for us and it has encouraged us to continue our expansion in the Middle East," said Charaf.

Like rivals such as Continental Airlines, Delta is seeing international revenues grow in importance.  Charaf said over 40 per cent of Delta's revenues should come from international markets this year and that would rise to 50 per cent next year.

"What we have done is to really shift our airline's strategy," he said. Charaf said Delta had added more international capacity than any other major US airline in the last two years, shifting more than 20 wide-bodied aircraft to foreign routes.

The airline's search for growth to offset domestic competition will also see it open new routes in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

The hijack attacks of Sept 11, 2001, sparked a sharp slowdown for airlines and triggered the collapse of major carriers.

Oil at record high prices this year has triggered more airline failures and rekindled speculation about further consolidation.

Delta and rival Northwest Airlines Corporation in April disclosed they were in merger talks that could create the world's biggest airline by traffic.-Reuters




Tags: Delta | Middle East | slow return | US airlines | Sept.11 attack |

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