Delta Air Lines Inc. on Wednesday unveiled major expansion plans in a move it said will make it the dominant carrier between the United States and Latin America.
The third-largest U.S. airline plans to add five daily flights in April to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Venezuela, doubling service from five daily Latin American flights today. Also, it filed for U.S. government approval Wednesday to add flights to Argentina, Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, for a total of 26 flights to Latin America.
"Our plan is to provide a level of service throughout Latin America that will match the level of service we offer business and leisure travelers across the North Atlantic to Europe," said Delta Chief Executive Leo F. Mullin.
Mullin said the Atlanta-based airline expects its Latin American expansion to be profitable within a year. It said it won't pursue an acquisition of international routes, which would be riskier. Instead, it will seek partnerships with Latin carriers as it faces a market dominated by AMR Corp.'s American Airlines.
"We have the opportunity to serve the area well in a disciplined way using Delta's own resources," Mullin said. "Acquisitions have their own set of challenges in terms of melding cultures and agreeing on a price. Whenever you do that on a transnational basis, it has a particular set of challenges."
Delta officials said the expansion plan, if it wins bilateral regulatory approval, will see Atlanta displace Miami as the primary U.S. gateway from Latin America.
Delta shares rose 38 cents to close at $120.38 on the New York Stock Exchange.
In its filing, Delta urged U.S. officials to initiate negotiations with Argentina and Colombia to expand bilateral aviation agreements and to continue talks with Peru.
Mullin said he would be more willing to consider domestic acquisitions in the future.