Delta starts life with Northwest

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Delta Air Lines has moved quickly to blend Northwest Airlines' assets with its own now their merger into the world's largest carrier has been completed. Delta's summer 2009 international plans stress the development of Northwest's Narita hub, giving Delta access to nine of Asia's top 20 markets it did not serve prior to the merger.

The Atlanta-based airline becomes the largest US carrier to Asia by capacity, says Glen Hauenstein, Delta executive vice-president of network planning and revenue management.

To develop the Narita hub, one of the prizes of the Northwest Airlines system with its fifth freedoms rights, Delta will in June begin daily nonstop flights to the Tokyo airport from New York JFK and five flights a week from its Salt Lake City hub.

It will also from May add a second daily frequency linking Narita with Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. From June it will also link Narita to Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City.

It illustrates how Delta aims to exploit the newly combined fleet. Atlanta-Narita flights will use Boeing 747-400s from the former Northwest fleet, operated on the Northwest certificate, to utilise the combined fleet's largest aircraft - Delta's biggest aircraft are 276-seat Boeing 777s.

Delta will use 243-seat Airbus A330-200s on Salt Lake City, also from the Northwest fleet, while JFK flights will be on Delta 777-200ERs - replacing what had once been a Northwest 747 route. Hauenstein has consistently argued the combined fleets add flexibility rather than complexity. It will use Boeing 757s operated under the Northwest certificate for the Japan-Vietnam flights.

The two carriers hope to begin operating under a single certificate within 12 to 18 months. "If you look at the equipment that we have on order, I think you'll see an ideal fit for more Narita service," Hauenstein says.

The combined airline will also increase connections among its six hubs by replacing regional jets on many routes. Although some intra-hub flights will still be on regional jets, hub-to-hub capacity will grow 14.5% year-over-year by January. Hauenstein says: "The first thing is to make sure the conduits are open for connecting traffic."

More on the new airline created by the Delta/Northwest merger