With Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Ed Bastian proclaiming that “third time’s the charm,” a large group of U.S. and Chinese business, civic and political leaders on Tuesday toasted the new nonstop route from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Shanghai Pudong International Airport.
The new route takes off Friday, July 20, carrying a delegation of some 30 Georgia economic development leaders aiming to drum up increased Chinese business through the coveted direct link.
Delta previously started – and stopped – service between the two cities in 2008 and after less-than-stellar results shut it down in 2012, to the disappointment of many in the business community. Mr. Bastian predicted they wouldn’t be let down again.
“It’s a momentous occasion, and I know this time it will work,” he said. “We have a wonderful partner with China Eastern Airlines, which is not only a partner, but a company we invested in. This is an opportunity for people to connect to 1,000 routes a day in Atlanta to 150 destinations and 70 destinations in the interior of China. This is a significant partnership.”
Delta in 2015 purchased a 3.55 percent ownership stake in China Eastern for $450 million, and over the last few years has been working closely with its partner to align operations at the Shanghai hub. The airline currently has direct flights there from Detroit, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Alluding to bilateral trade troubles, Mr. Bastian noted that Delta was “doing the opposite and is a unifying force to bring countries and communities together. We’re making it a smaller world with more possibilities.”
Currently international business is about one-third of Delta’s bottom line, Mr. Bastian said, but Delta intends to increase it to about half of its overall revenue.
Calling it a “historic flight,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal joked that the 7,636-mile journey is “a long flight with no pit stops. And, it’s hands free all the way,” a reference to the recently enacted Georgia law making it illegal to hold a communication device while driving.
Mr. Deal noted that there are 101 Chinese facilities in the state and more than 46 Georgia-based firms doing business in China.
“I see this as an opportunity to also expand tourism, and it’ll be a lot easier to get here than having to go through a Midwestern or northern city,” the governor said of Chinese travelers, who spend heavily when touring abroad. “People will get to see the best first.
But business leaders believe this was even more important for Atlanta’s role as a commercial center, given its competition with other U.S. hubs.
“Not having this route was a sink-or-swim situation for Georgia,” said Steven Gu, director of U.S.-China business advisory services at
PYA, P.C., who lamented the connections required in the past. “Now, Atlanta has the status of the other cities.”
Others were similarly enthused. Henry Yu, chief operating officer for Asian Investors Consortium, a strategic investment company that does business with projects in China and ASEAN, said it takes the guesswork out of traveling to China, where he lived for many years as a banker.
“It’s usually a 21-hour trip; now it’s much less. It’s all about saving time and convenience. This makes it much easier to go back and forth and it will also help Georgia because it will help in recruiting companies and investment to Georgia,” Mr. Yu said.
Bin Chung, vice president of technology for Maxxis International, a Taiwan-based tire company, already has booked a flight for three associates from Atlanta Aug. 12. Though based out of Taipei, Taiwan, Maxxis has a factory and testing facility near Shanghai.
Mr. Chung, who has traveled to China six times in as many months this year, said that with the nonstop, he’ll probably make more trips. “Well, if it’s not too expensive.”
One of Georgia’s earliest Chinese manufacturers, construction equipment maker SANY America Inc. sees this route as helping open up its global business, said Jiannan Fu, chief financial officer.
“This route will open up business to South America,” he said. “Before you had to go to Miami, now it will be straight from Shanghai to Atlanta to South America. I think we will be seeing more investment, more medium-size companies interested and more joint ventures. Shanghai is the commercial capital of China, and maybe as important as Hong Kong.”
In her remarks, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that while Atlanta is an international city, it wants to be “intentional” in seeking partnerships with Delta and other international investors in a “meaningful way that will open the doors of our city to the entire world.”
Chinese Consul General Li Qiangmin, based in Houston, said the new route will enhance Shanghai’s role as a financial, logistical and commercial center of China.
“Atlanta is playing an important role in U.S.-China relations,” Mr. Li said.
Metro Atlanta Chamber CEO Hala Moddelmog said this was a “big, big day,” and that a direct route to China is one of the top three requested routes by the business community.