Delta Air Lines Inc. on April 7 is to launch a weekly flight from Atlanta to Haiti, the first nonstop air service to the country from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in at least two decades.
Delta announced the move as the Caribbean nation prepares to mark the second anniversary of a Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people and crippled its infrastructure.
Delta already flies nonstop from New York to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, but that flight is mostly sustained by local demand.
Thanks to Atlanta’s central location in the Southeast, the new Saturday flight is to draw connecting passengers from all over the country and the growing number of businesspeople and aid workers traveling to Haiti from the region, said Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman.
Much of the current U.S.-Haiti air traffic goes through Miami, where American Airlines operates a Latin America hub.
That means much of the rest of the country is “not particularly well-served,” Mr. Banstetter told GlobalAtlanta.
“It’ll be a convenient connecting point,” he said of Atlanta.
Georgia is home to an estimated 50,000 people of Haitian descent, said Gandy Thomas, Haiti’s consul general in Atlanta, who added that about 200,000 Haitians live in the area spanning from Jacksonville, Fla., to Texas.
Since opening the Atlanta consulate last February, Mr. Thomas has met multiple times with Delta officials to discuss a potential flight from Atlanta to Haiti.
Not only would the flight provide a convenient travel option, but it would also bring Haitian crops like mangoes more quickly to market in the U.S., where there is “huge demand” for organic products like those Haiti is focused on growing, he said.
Mr. Thomas will soon meet with the executive at Coca-Cola Co. responsible for a five-year, $7.5 million project to help build a Haitian mango juice industry.
Being close to Fortune 500 companies like Coke was a major factor in the decision to put the consulate in Atlanta and will be critical as it embarks this year on a campaign to recruit investment, Mr. Thomas said.
“My goal this year is to go everywhere and say, ‘Haiti’s open for business, come invest,'” he said.
Haiti, a country of 10 million that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, is still struggling two years after the earthquake.
More than 400,000 people are living in tent settlements in the capital, down from about 800,000 last January. About 65 Haitian refugees have been resettled to Atlanta since the earthquake, Mr. Thomas said.
The country has seen some investment successes. Marriott in November announced that it will build a $45 million five-star hotel in Port-au-Prince, its first hotel in the country, while Korean firm Sae-A Trading has said it will set up textile manufacturing operations employing at least 20,000 people.
Atlanta-based humanitarian organization CARE responded quickly to the earthquake and is now shifting from disaster relief to a variety of economic development and educational programs designed to empower women and reduce poverty.
Nearly all of CARE’s workers in Haiti are natives, but a few CARE employees travel to the country from Atlanta multiple times per month. Depending on layovers in Miami, where they normal connect, the flight from Atlanta could save them anywhere from minutes to hours to a full day, said Rita Stone-Smith, a spokeswoman.