Delta plans to relaunch Atlanta-Shanghai flights

View of the Shanghai skyline at night from the Crystal Symphony. (Jerome Levine/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

View of the Shanghai skyline at night from the Crystal Symphony. (Jerome Levine/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Delta Air Lines plans to relaunch flights from Atlanta to Shanghai, reinstating a crucial economic link between the Southeast and China.

Atlanta-based Delta aims to launch the service a year from now, in July 2018, with 291-seat Boeing 777-200LRs. The launch of the route is subject to government approval, and Delta is submitting its application Wednesday for the route.

There are currently no nonstop flights between Atlanta and China, and Delta only has two other routes between Atlanta and Asia: to Tokyo and Seoul. Delta relaunched service between Atlanta and Seoul last month.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Shanghai “is one of the most requested routes that we have here in Atlanta…. It’s a big deal for the local business community, not just in Atlanta but in the Southeast.”

He said he expects large international businesses that sell or buy goods in China, such as Coca-Cola and Home Depot, will be big users. “It’s also going to create additional business opportunities in Atlanta for new business start-ups and new connectivity,” Bastian said.

Gov. Nathan Deal said in a written statement that the Shanghai route would boost tourism and business connections.

“The flight will help shorten supply chains for our companies and give them a daily link to China for time sensitive distribution,” according to Deal.

China ranks second for visitor volume to Atlanta, according to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Metro Atlanta Chamber CEO Hala Moddelmog said the resumption of the route “attests to metro Atlanta’s standing as a logistics powerhouse and gateway to the world.”

Delta's previous service from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Shanghai struggled amid weak demand. Delta first launched Atlanta-Shanghai flights in 2008, but lost money on the operation and cut back on the route before discontinuing it altogether in 2012.

But this time, Delta said its China Eastern partnership will allow travelers to connect in Shanghai to more than 50 other cities in China, while more travelers from China can connect in Atlanta to other U.S. cities, increasing the potential market of fliers.

“We’ll have a real good shot at making this a success,” Bastian said.

Delta bought a stake in China Eastern in 2015. The partnership will allow travelers to travel from Atlanta and connect in Shanghai to more than 50 other cities in China, and more travelers in China can connect in Atlanta to other cities around the United States – effectively increasing the potential market of travelers who would take the flight to a much larger geographical area.

Delta already flies to Shanghai from Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle, but the return of the route from Atlanta has been much anticipated.

In 2014, Delta's then-CEO Richard Anderson said he hoped to eventually restart flights from Atlanta to China. "We really have to reconnect Atlanta to China," Anderson said at a Metro Atlanta Chamber luncheon at the time. "Over the long run we will."

And in 2016, Bastian said he hoped to eventually restart the Atlanta-Shanghai service.

"We gotta get the Shanghai flight back for Atlanta. We're working on that," Bastian said a year ago. He said that would be his "personal contribution to the community. Because Atlanta needs Shanghai. Shanghai is the capital of Asia, from my vantage point, for the future."

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AJC Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi keeps you updated on the latest news about Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta Air Lines and the airline industry in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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