Nigerian market good for us in last 17 years, says Delta Air Lines’ Hassenstab

  • Carrier’s US-Nigeria route returns to 75% post-pandemic period
  • Invests $12 billion in airport infrastructure

 

While Nigerian carriers are bogged down by many challenges that have seen them unable to fend off competition from European, Middle East and American airlines, a United States-based airline, Delta Air said that the Nigerian market has been good to the carrier since 2007 that the carrier began direct flight operations to the country under the US-Nigeria ‘Open Skies’ air pact.

Delta Air Lines, regarded as the largest airline in the US-West Africa market serves five markets in Africa more than any other U.S carrier, offering daily flights to Lagos, Accra and Johannesburg with three weekly service to Senegal and three-week service to Cape Town.

It operates 4000 flights daily to its destinations across the globe with a codeshare arrangement with Kenya Airways while it looks to extend partnerships with other African airlines that have a reputation as Delta.

This is coming just as the carrier piqued by the foreign exchange crisis has decided to quote fares in dollars, saying, “Today, we are selling in USD only. We have accepted Naira in the past but because of Forex issues, we are accepting only USD.’

Delta Air Director of Sales, Middle East, Africa and India, Paul Hassenstab, who visited Nigeria this week in an exclusive interview with Aviation Metric in Lagos said, “This market has been good to us in the last 17 years that we have been here. We have done very well on this route and it is good for us as an airline. Our entire ground team here including Nigerian nationals are doing a tremendous job. We also have dedicated airport services for our dedicated passengers and take them through Immigration. We are also involved in community engagement and that is at the centre of what we do.

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“We have done some great work here and achievements with Junior Achievement with breast cancer awareness and working with many organizations that are important to Nigeria. We are very much committed to that. When you think of Delta, we are commercially thinking of what we can offer. We are investing one per cent back into the community. In Nigeria, people have been very kind and I am very happy to have this conversation.”

Speaking on the carrier’s 17 years of operation in Nigeria and other milestones the carrier has achieved over its almost 100 years of operation, the airline chief noted that the company’s strategy for the market had paid off handsomely coupled with the deployment of state-of-the-art equipment among others amid the ups and downs they had encountered on the route including the desire to continue to be the premium carrier of choice for Nigeria.

“Our strategy has been working for us even with ups and downs in the market. If you look at the footprint we have in West Africa, this has been a great relationship and it brings value to Nigerians from the commercial side of it and it is a good one between the two countries and we see a lot of traffic, the successes we have and a lot of support we have in the market.”

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While exuding optimism about the future of Delta in Africa, Hassenstab disclosed that the airline is not oblivious of the challenges especially with things that are outside of their control, noting that the challenges came with so many other opportunities.

Reminded on how the carrier hopes to cope with competition when two Nigerian carriers are expected to begin flights to New York and Houston, he said, “We don’t fear competition. Competition makes us better. They make people better.”

He further stated that Delta was working on accelerating a $12 billion investment into US domestic airports.

He said, “We hope that someday we can host you in Atlanta to have a first-hand view and information as we try to build the next generation of the airport experience and to think of what it does look like; you arrive at the airport and maybe have baggage checked in, tagged bags and go through security, we have facial ID recognition and it is something to see. We are going to be 100 years old next year. We were born in 1925. We look forward to celebrating it. It is a testament to the service. That stands out. We have a model that takes care of customers and that makes customers come back.”

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He further disclosed that Delta operates the Nigerian route seven times a week with 3, 100 seats over seven times weekly and a 75% load factor in and out of Lagos, describing the numbers as good, adding that in 2019 before the CVID pandemic, the carrier’s load factor to Lagos was between 75% and 80%.

“That was where we were and of course, we would like to get that back but today, we are at 75%.

Speaking proudly about his airline’s partnership with Air France/KLM and Virgin Atlantic tagged, ‘World’s leading airline partnership, Hassenstab disclosed that the expanded partnership is a major step forward for all of their airlines as they deliver greater reliability, top travel benefits and leading service that their customers deserve.

Paul Hassenstab

To him, the partnership was taking the longstanding collaboration to a new level as they continue to build the partnership of choice across Europe and North America that sets it apart from the rest of the industry.

Wole Shadare