ANALYSIS: Delta ups hub-to-hub Atlantic flying

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Delta Air Lines plans to fly the majority of its capacity over the Atlantic between hubs during the peak season this year.

The Atlanta-based SkyTeam alliance member has gradually cut hub-to-spoke routes in favour of those to the hubs of its immunised joint venture - Alitalia and Air France-KLM - and alliance partners in an effort to increase unit revenues and improve the profitability of its trans-Atlantic operation.

Capacity on Delta's hub-to-hub routes across the Atlantic will rise to more than 51% by June compared to about 48% in June 2012, according to Innovata FlightMaps Analytics. This is boosted by the addition of one new daily nonstop flight between Amsterdam and both Atlanta (for a total of three) and Boston (two) from 31 March; between Amsterdam and both Detroit (four) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (three) from 1 April; between Amsterdam and Seattle (two) from 5 May; and between Amsterdam and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK, two) from 17 May.

"Amsterdam is a key market for Delta and this summer Delta will be offering 9,800 daily seats between Amsterdam and the United States," says Perry Cantarutti, senior vice-president for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Delta, in a statement. Amsterdam is a hub for KLM.

Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

Delta's overall Atlantic capacity is down less than 1% in June compared to a year earlier, according to Innovata.

These additions follow similar frequency increases to Paris Charles de Gaulle, a major hub for Air France, from Atlanta, Boston, Newark and Seattle that were announced last year.

The hub emphasis is clearly evident when comparing Delta's schedule in June with a year earlier. At least seven routes to spokes in Europe have fewer flights this year compared to 2012, while only one hub-to-hub route - JFK-Rome - lost frequency, according to Innovata. The Amsterdam-Memphis and JFK-Valencia, Spain, spoke routes were also cut.

Additions include new hub flights between Boston and Amsterdam, and the new frequencies on many of the aforementioned routes to Amsterdam and Paris. A few spoke routes also gained flights, including Detroit-London Heathrow and JFK-Dublin.

Delta trans-Atlantic routes, June 2013

Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

Delta trans-Atlantic routes, June 2012

Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

"There has been a disproportionate increase in hub-to-hub routes rather than hub-to-spoke routes," Craig Jenks, president of Airline/Aviation Projects who analyses the transatlantic market, told Airline Business last year. "This is a measure of the strength of alliances."

Virgin Atlantic Airways will boost the amount of capacity Delta flies into the hubs of its partners further. Nearly two-thirds of the US carrier's trans-Atlantic capacity will be hub-to-hub after its acquisition of a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic closes and their immunised joint venture is approved, which is expected by the end of the year, based on Delta's June schedule, according to FlightMaps.

Delta is far from alone in this move. "The pattern you find here is that you fly into your partners' hubs," said Kurt Stache, vice-president of strategic alliances at American, in an interview with Airline Business last year. "Smaller cities are going to be dependent on both local traffic and transfer traffic, and without the transfer traffic, it can get difficult to make work."

The concentration of hub-to-hub routes at American is higher than at Delta due to the smaller size of its European operations but the trend is the same. Hub-to-hub flying is increasingly what passengers will get from US carriers when flying to Europe.