Delta Air Lines Inc. announced Friday plans to restart nonstop flights from the U.S. to Mumbai next year, a decade after it halted its short-lived foray from Atlanta to the Indian commercial capital.
Delta revealed few specifics in its news release, saying the route is subject to government approval and that details would be announced later this year. CNBC reported that it could originate from either Atlanta or New York.
An Atlanta flight would be a victory for the city’s Indian business community, which has been lobbying carriers for a nonstop connection since Delta moved its Atlanta-Mumbai flight to New York in 2009 and suspended it shortly thereafter.
For its part, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport airport has taken delegations to the country in each of the last two years to in an effort to woo Air India routes.
What changed for Delta in the last 10 years — or is it 10 days?
Delta CEO Ed Bastian credited the Trump administration’s deal with the United Arab Emirates earlier this month to address concerns about unfair competition from state-run carriers in the country. A similar deal with Qatar was reached in January.
“It is exciting to be able to announce Delta’s return to India from the U.S. as part of our vision to expand Delta’s reach internationally,” said Mr. Bastian in the release. “We are thankful to the president for taking real action to enforce our Open Skies trade deals, which made this new service possible.”
Through a joint lobbying effort labeled the Partnership for Fair and Open Skies, Delta, United Airlines and American Airlines have long decried billions of dollars in alleged handouts Middle Eastern carriers have received in violation of aviation agreements between the U.S. and the two countries.
In the deal, Delta said, the UAE acknowledged for the first time that subsidies harm competition and separately agreed to end the practice as well as to “freeze” flights from the U.S. to cities outside their home countries.
But not everyone sees it that way. Even as American carriers declared victory, the UAE ambassador issued a statement saying that the full benefits and rights of the Open Skies pact between the two countries had been preserved.
The language of the State Department’s Record of Discussion, as reported by the Associated Press, hasn’t provided much clarity either way.
While both parties agree that subsidies undermine competition, the agreement stops short of requiring the UAE to admit it has subsidized Emirates or Etihad. And the text later seems to contradict itself by saying that subsidies aren’t that harmful or uncommon in the aviation world.
The clearest commitment in the deal is that UAE carriers will offer audited financial statements “in line with international accounting standards.” Emirates already publishes statements audited by EY; Etihad “voluntarily” agreed to start doing the same, according to the UAE government.