By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Delta Airlines has added two new flights from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) to Beijing and Osaka this summer.
The national airline added daily flights to Osaka on June 7 and three flights a week to Beijing on June 4. Delta is the second airline and the first U.S. airline to add non-stop flights from Seattle to Beijing.
“For some time, we have considered Seattle to be a city with lots of opportunity to Asia,” said Delta Airlines spokesperson Trebor Banstetter. “We thought there was a lot of opportunity to expand there.”
According to a statement from Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, most of the trade through Washington state is to or from Asia. Trading partners in Asia have not been affected by the economic downturn as much as other areas in the world.
“Seattle for us is kind of the growing gateway to Asia,” Banstetter said. “There are a lot of really good opportunities for service there because of the local market and because of the economies on both sides of the Pacific.”
William Stafford, director of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Trade Development Alliance, is excited about the new flights. “I think it’s very important for Seattle businesses, trade, tourism, and international students,” he said. “[They] all follow air routes.”
International students from Asia often pursue post-secondary education in a technical field. They study in Washington because of its proximity to companies like Microsoft and Boeing.
“China is becoming our number one trading port aside from Canada,” Stafford said, explaining the possible long-term economic effects. “If you’re in an area of business and you want to have an office in the United States, the fact that you can fly non-stop to Seattle is particularly important. [This] does nothing but help us.”
Until Delta’s new addition, Hainan Airlines was the only airline to fly non-stop from Seattle to Beijing.
“A little competition will be good,” Stafford said.
“If a lot of Chinese fly international and Delta uses the flights to feed people from connecting flights, both routes (Delta and Hainan) will be well [used],” he added. “I think the world seems to be falling into two kinds of airlines, big [ones] and budget/regional [ones],” Stafford said.
Banstetter points out that the Delta flights are not just for the benefit of Seattle and Washington state, but for everyone across the nation.
“First and foremost, we think that it really serves our customers very well to have these non-stops,” he said.
“We definitely want to serve our local customers as well as our customers on the other side of the Pacific. At the same time, we also feel like there’s an opportunity to do some connections in Seattle from our networks across the United States … Really, I think it’s definitely fair that we think of Seattle as an Asian gateway city,” Banstetter said.
Ever since 9/11, airlines have experienced significant revenue decreases, with many folding. Naturally, this is on the minds of Delta employees. “The real question is, is there sufficient business for the airlines out of here?” Stafford said.
Growth is projected. The Port of Seattle reports that flights to Asia out of Sea-Tac from May 2009 to May 2010 increased 31 percent. Last year, Delta flew to Tokyo-Narita under the name Northwest Airlines. Delta/Northwest accounted for 4.8 percent of the share of Seattle to Asia flights (year to date). In 2010, Delta’s year to date is 19.02 percent. Hainan Airlines’ share is 7.24 percent.The two new routes mark the first major move that Delta has taken since its merger with Northwest Airlines.
Stafford thinks Delta’s selection of Seattle for the new routes is a good sign. He hopes that this is the beginning of many more flights to Asia.
“In the future, we could see additional routes come here. It would be nice to see an airline to Hong Kong/Guangzhou,” he said.
“We feel very good about these flights,” Banstetter said. “We feel that there’s a very good customer base and demand for it.” ♦
Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.