Northwest Airlines, a unit of Delta, seeks to delay some U.S.-China service

  • Article by: HARRY R. WEBER , Associated Press
  • Updated: December 29, 2008 - 8:30 PM

ATLANTA - Northwest Airlines, due to poor market conditions in light of the weakened global economy, is the latest carrier seeking to delay or cut back long-coveted U.S.-China service.

The subsidiary of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. said in a filing earlier this month with the Department of Transportation that it was seeking to delay proposed daily Seattle-Beijing service by a year from March 2009 to March 2010 and delay startup of Detroit-Shanghai nonstop service by more than two months from March 25, 2009, to June 3, 2009.

Northwest said the current economic problems that are affecting the global economy are having a particular impact on demand for U.S.-China air transportation. Data show year-over-year U.S.-China bookings declined dramatically after the close of the Summer Olympics, and advance bookings for March 2009 are down nearly 30 percent, according to Northwest's motion to the DOT.

Its move follows requests from other carriers, including American Airlines, US Airways and United Airlines, to delay U.S.-China service. Delta and Continental Airlines previously requested permission to scale back some of their U.S-China service.

U.S. carriers have fought for years for permission to launch service to China.

"Northwest is very disappointed that it will not be able to operate its full schedule of U.S.-China combination services in the upcoming year," the carrier said in a Dec. 19 motion to the DOT. "However, China remains of critical strategic importance to the Delta/Northwest network."

Northwest noted that the DOT has already granted dormancy waivers to American, a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp., Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways Group Inc., Chicago-based UAL Corp., the parent of United, and Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc.

In several of those requests, the airlines cited high fuel prices. Oil peaked at a record $147 a barrel in July. Since then, oil prices have fallen dramatically and are currently at around $40 a barrel. Airlines, however, are still losing money because the global financial crisis has reduced demand for air travel.

American sought to defer the startup of Chicago-Beijing service, while US Airways sought to defer the startup of Philadelphia-Beijing service and United sought to defer the startup of San Francisco-Guangzhou service.

Continental sought to convert two Newark, N.J.-Beijing and Newark, N.J.-Shanghai frequencies from year-round to seasonal service, while Delta earlier this year received permission to convert two of its Atlanta-Shanghai frequencies from year-round service to seasonal service.

Delta acquired Northwest on Oct. 29 to create the world's biggest carrier.

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