NEW YORK – Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) said Tuesday it would add 11 new routes between the United States and Europe and the Middle East in 2006 in a bid to become the world's largest transatlantic airline, despite its financial troubles.
The move is part of a "transformation plan" to pull the carrier back from the brink of collapse by tapping more lucrative markets. It filed for bankruptcy protection last month.
"This is a cornerstone of the transformation plan in Delta — shifting assets to markets where we are doing well," said Loren Neuenschwander, managing director for the Atlantic region at Delta.
The transition will be carried out by transferring existing wide-bodied aircraft from struggling domestic markets where flight frequencies will be cut, Delta officials said at a Paris news briefing.
The move will increase the proportion of revenues from international routes to 35 percent from 22 percent of total sales, Delta officials added.
The 11 new routes include three already announced, linking Atlanta to Tel Aviv, Dusseldorf and Copenhagen, along with eight new ones, from Atlanta to Edinburgh, Athens, Nice and Venice and from New York's JFK airport (search) to Budapest, Dublin, Manchester and Kiev.
Neuenschwander said the expansion would boost Delta's revenue per seat mile but did not say by how much.
He said Boeing 767-400 and 767-300 ER (search) jets would be used on the new routes and said connections to highly competitive markets such as Florida would be reduced.
The company said the changes would increase Delta's international seats per mile, or capacity, as a share of total capacity to 31 percent from 23 percent by the summer of 2006.
Delta gave the briefing in Paris ahead of a formal announcement in the United States.
At a separate briefing in Atlanta, Delta Chief Executive Gerald Grinstein (search) said the airline would probably ask its pilots' union to extend a program under which some retired pilots are being recalled to work, the Associated Press reported.
The program is aimed at avoiding pilot shortages after the retirement of over 1,000 senior pilots qualified to fly the wide-bodied planes used on its international, as well as some domestic, routes, the AP said.
Fears that a Delta bankruptcy filing would squeeze pension benefits accelerated the pilot exodus, the AP said.
Delta spokeswoman Chris Kelly confirmed Grinstein's comments.