Delta Air Lines Inc. and airport officials, representatives of business and community groups and other supporters greeted the long-awaited announcement that Delta had been awarded a direct air-route between Atlanta and Shanghai, China, with jubilation at a ceremony held the morning of September 25 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters even poked a little fun at Atlanta by saying, “Ultimately, these new connections are going to make it easier and more convenient to fly from the U.S. to China than it is to drive from Dunwoody to downtown Atlanta during rush hour.”

Her initial remarks stressed the advantages the flights would provide for business and pleasure travelers. Companies both large and small would be better able to compete in global markets and ticket prices eventually would fall as this and other new flights are approved, she said.

Richard Anderson, Delta’s CEO, said that Delta has been promised final delivery of two Boeing 777 aircraft for the flight by March 2008 when they are scheduled to open the route. In addition, he said that Delta would like to have more flights approved to other cities in China, especially Beijing.

“We’ll buy the airplanes,” he added. He also said that Delta would be hiring Mandarin speakers as flight attendants to service the flights.

Concerning other new routes to China, Ms. Peters announced that United Airlines Inc. was awarded a direct route from San Francisco to Guangzhou, to open in 2008. And she proposed awards for four new daily flights to begin in 2009: American Airlines Inc. for Chicago-Beijing service, Continental Airlines Inc. for Newark, N.J.-Shanghai service, Northwest Airlines Inc. for Detroit, Mich.-Shanghai service and U.S. Airways Inc. for Philadelphia-Beijing service.

“Final decisions of these proposed awards will be made in the near future after further public comment,” she said.

She praised the city and state effort to support the opening of the flight, specifically naming Gov. Sonny Perdue, Mayor Shirley Franklin and R. Mason Cargill, partner with the law firm Jones Day, for leading a Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce letter writing campaign supporting the flight.

But she squashed the suggestion during the ensuing press conference that the new flights would be an added incentive to open a new airport in the region. “You can’t run an international hub from two airports,” she said. She added, however, that the country’s air traffic controller system needed to be modernized.

Ben DeCosta, general manager of the airport, told GlobalAtlanta that the announcement would encourage him to go “full steam ahead” with construction of a new international terminal, and inspired him to approach Atlanta City Council to ask for additional design funds for the terminal.

Lani Wong, chair of the National Association of Chinese Americans, said that she had waited 10 years for such an announcement and hoped that other flights would be forthcoming.

John Ray, the newly elected chairman of the Georgia China Alliance, told GlobalAtlanta during a telephone interview later in the day that the flight represented “a visible and tangible tie” of the sort sought by the organization when it was formed four years ago.

“It will encourage more U.S. companies to do business in China,” he said. “It makes the most attractive consumer market in the U.S. — the Southeast — accessable to Chinese businesses and tourists.”

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin also expressed her excitement about the economic impact of the new flight.

“The routes to China open up a whole new world for business and tourism and the city of Atlanta stands ready to continue to support Delta’s worldwide expansion,” she said in an email statement.

She congratulated Delta’s leaders and spoke positively about the company’s role in establishing Atlanta as the commercial capital of the Southeast.

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