Delta plans for growth as it heads into 2020

Delta Air Lines shows off some planes in its aircraft fleet during a media day at their Tech Ops hanger at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in April 2016. KENT D. JOHNSON /kdjohnson@ajc.com
Delta Air Lines shows off some planes in its aircraft fleet during a media day at their Tech Ops hanger at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in April 2016. KENT D. JOHNSON /kdjohnson@ajc.com

Delta Air Lines says it is hiring thousands of employees and making plans to increase flying in Atlanta and other core hubs.

Atlanta-based Delta has hired 6,800 employees this year to replace retiring workers and to grow, said CEO Ed Bastian at the company's investor day at the Delta Flight Museum on Thursday.

Next year, Delta plans to hire thousands more employees, including 1,300 pilots and 2,500 flight attendants.

After striking partnerships with airlines around the world including Air France-KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, Aeromexico, China Eastern and most recently LATAM, Bastian says Delta is now the largest airline revenue group in the world.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, he said, Delta had its highest single-day revenue in its history, bringing in nearly $200 million that day.

“The U.S. consumer is healthy and is responding well,” Bastian said.

This year, Delta expects to bring in $6 billion in pre-tax income on a 7 percent increase in revenue. Next year, plans are to grow revenue by 4 to 6 percent.

But 2020 could bring some challenges, Bastian acknowledged.

The 2020 election could cause uncertainty among consumers, Bastian said, which can affect spending.

And some investors are concerned about increased competition when the Boeing 737 Max re-enters service with Southwest, American and United.

Delta does not fly the 737 Max and saw an increase in traffic this year after its competitors had to scrap flights that they had planned to fly with the Max. Bastian said when the Max returns to flying, he does not think it will be a material risk to Delta.

The airline will also make some significant shifts in other parts of the world, including pulling out of Tokyo's Narita Airport where it had operated a hub, while shifting operations to Tokyo's Haneda Airport -- and moving forward on a joint venture with South American airline group LATAM.

Delta president Glen Hauenstein said the biggest opportunities for growth are in the U.S. domestic market, and Delta is increasing flying at its interior hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, the airline is bringing in more new jets to its fleet, and will retire its MD-88s.

Delta is also expanding in other divisions beyond its main airline business, including Delta Flight Products, an engineering and manufacturing business that began by designing interior modifications for the company’s planes.

“Candidly the supply chain was pretty broken in that space,” said Delta chief operating officer Gil West. “We need to control the design, we need to control the certification, the planning, the execution.”

In the process, Delta Flight Products developed a wireless seat-back in-flight entertainment system that weighs less and allows wireless streaming, as well as a proprietary mechanism that makes it easier to close heavy overhead bins.

Next year, Delta Flight Products plans to begin selling its products to other companies, and has booked its first sale to an international joint venture partner.

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