Delta Air Lines drops Singapore ahead of Narita pullout; last flight scheduled for Sep-2019

Delta Air Lines is suspending services next month to Singapore, a once lucrative market that Delta and predecessor Northwest Airlines have served for several decades. Delta has been impacted in Singapore by the launch of several new nonstop routes from United Airlines and Singapore Airlines (SIA) which are particularly attractive to business passengers and corporates.

The decision to drop Singapore comes six months ahead of the closure of Delta’s Tokyo Narita hub. Singapore is one of two remaining intra-Asia routes for Delta along with Manila. It plans to maintain service to Manila by launching Manila-Seoul Incheon when Manila-Tokyo Narita is dropped next March.

Delta’s last departure from Singapore is scheduled for 22-Sep-2019, according to the airline’s website booking engine. The US major has served Singapore via Tokyo since its 2008 merger with Northwest and currently operates the route daily with Boeing 767-300 equipment.

Northwest began serving Singapore prior to the country’s 1965 independence. It operated from Singapore Paya Lebar Airport to Tokyo until Changi Airport opened in 1981. Delta/Northwest has had a hub at Narita since the airport opened in 1978. Prior to that it had a hub at Haneda.

As previously reported, Delta has been gradually reducing the Narita hub (suspending 15 routes over the last seven years) and has been preparing in recent months to pull out of Narita entirely. Delta is currently down to only seven routes at Narita – Atlanta, Detroit, Honolulu, Manila, Portland, Seattle and Singapore.

The Blue Swan Daily predicted in Mar-2019 that Delta’s aspirations for dropping Narita entirely would likely occur in 2020 as new slots become available at Haneda. “Losing Delta is a blow for Narita given Delta (or Northwest) was one of Narita’s largest airlines for nearly four decades,” the ‘Delta Air Lines prepares to say ‘sayonara’ to Narita’ report stated.

“However, moving to Haneda is positive for Delta’s Japan-US passengers, particularly business and corporate passengers, given the convenience of Haneda. While some US corporates would prefer the option of Delta metal to Southeast Asia, the much larger array of options on Korean Air via Seoul is appealing,” it also explained.

The US DOT has since awarded Delta five additional Haneda slot pairs for Atlanta, Detroit, Honolulu, Portland and Seattle – making Delta’s pullout of Narita inevitable. These routes are slated to transfer to Haneda in late Mar-2020.

Delta could have maintained both Manila and Singapore by using fifth freedom rights to Seoul, which last year became its new intra-Asia hub following implementation of a new joint venture with Korean Air. However, it appears that Delta has decided only to operate Seoul-Manila.

Launching Seoul-Manila is sensible as it enables Delta to keep precious slots at Manila and help out JV partner Korean Air, which is unable to add flights to Manila due to slot constraints. While Delta is using Incheon as its new hub for Southeast Asia it needs its own Seoul-Manila flights to ensure there is enough available capacity for its US-Philippines passengers.

A similar argument could be made for Singapore given that Korean Air is unable to currently add flights to Singapore due to bilateral constraints. However, the economics of Singapore-Seoul may not be attractive given its relatively long length and the impact on Delta’s Singapore-US traffic by the new nonstop routes from United and SIA.

Similarly, Delta could have opted to launch its own Singapore-US nonstop – most likely to its Seattle hub – but was likely dissuaded by the overcapacity in the Singapore-US market. SIA also decided last year to launch Seattle, which will become SIA’s fourth US nonstop destination on 3-Sep-2019, eliminating any possibility that conservative Delta would launch the route.

Delta of course could still return to Singapore in future with a nonstop or by launching a service to Seoul in partnership with Korean Air. For the time being at least a significant chapter in Singapore’s colourful aviation history is ending as Delta bows out.