Breaking Travel News interview: Corneel Koster, senior vice president, EMEA, Delta Air Lines

Having taken up leadership of Delta Air Lines in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and India in 2017, Corneel Koster has seen the carrier expand its operations in the region over the past 12 months.

At the same time, Delta has completed two multi-billion-dollar aircraft orders as it continues to grow its fleet.

Here we find out more.

Following a strong 2017, which saw the carrier report pre-tax profits of more than $5 billion, Delta Air Lines received a further boost in early 2018.

After months of judicial recrimination, the US-based International Trade Commission found in favour of Bombardier in its dispute with Boeing over tariff protection on the new C Series plane.

The decision left the way clear for Atlanta-based Delta to complete its purchase of 75 C Series jets, with deliveries set to begin next year.

As part of a wide-ranging interview with Breaking Travel News, Corneel Koster, senior vice president, EMEA, Delta Air Lines, explains the news was welcome, if not unexpected.

“We are naturally pleased by the ruling of the International Trade Commission,” he explained.

“We were always confident that there was no US-based manufacturer who offered an alternative.

“Boeing did not have an alternative for this plane.

“Therefore, we felt confident that the ruling would be the way we expected it to be and that we would be able to start operating the aircraft without exorbitant taxes.”

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Delta will start flying the Bombardier C Series in 2019

But has the dispute damaged the relationship between Delta and one of its major aircraft supplies, with Boeing seeking to scupper a deal the carrier was intent on completing?

No, Boeing and Delta are as close as ever, reasons Koster.

He explains: “Let me say, the relationship with Boeing is very good, we are one of the largest operators of Boeing planes in the world, and we are proud to fly Boeing.

“Our chief executive, Ed Bastian, recently mentioned that he would like to be launch customer on a new Boeing mid-range aircraft, one that the company is currently developing at the moment.

“This remains a very good, positive relationship.”

So, what will the new C Series planes mean for Delta passengers when they start to take off in 2019?

By focusing on the 100- to 150-seat market segment, Bombardier has designed the C Series aircraft to deliver advantageous economics and to open up new opportunities for single-aisle aircraft.

A 100 per cent all-new design, it includes state-of-the-art technologies and advanced aerodynamics, combined with the Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1500G engines, to deliver a 15 to 20 per cent fuel efficiency on other planes.

Koster enthuses: “This is a fantastic aircraft and the United States’ consumers will now get to fly on this fantastic aircraft, so we are very pleased with the situation.

“It is an innovative aircraft, 110 seats, with the largest windows on any narrow-body aircraft, and we will offer full seatback entertainment, ambient lighting, in-flight Wi-Fi, and huge overhead bins.

“At this moment we are working with Bombardier to develop a delivery schedule to nail down the deliveries.

“The initial planes will come out of Canada and after that we are also excited to get delivers from the Mobile, Alabama, facility, when it opens.

“There are no dates for this, as yet, we are firming that up.”

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Delta has 100 Airbus A321neo planes on order

Of course, an airline of Delta’s size has an insatiable appetite for growth, and there are plenty more planes set to join the fleet in coming years.

Alongside the Bombardier deal, Delta confirmed an order for 100 Airbus A321neo planes last year, with plans to fly them largely on domestic routes as older Airbus A321s and McDonnell Douglas 88s are gradually retired.

The A321neo introduces new door and fuselage enhancements, allowing airlines to make best use of the cabin space, and has a range of up to 4,000 nautical miles.

The A321 is the largest member of the A320 family, seating up to 240 passengers.

Koster explains: “In December, we placed an order for 100 Airbus A321neo aircraft, with delivery from 2020.

“It has excellent economics, a spacious cabin, and excellent product features, including in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, overhead bins, and power sockets in every seat.

“The plane is a lot more efficient than the current A321s, 12 per cent more fuel efficient than its predecessor, and even more so than some of the older aircraft we are phasing out, such as the MD88.”

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Delta continues to expand its operations in Europe

With so many planes on order, Delta is also rolling out a number of new routes, while also increasing frequencies on others, to ensure they are kept busy.

The carrier will launch new departures from Amsterdam to Los Angeles and Orlando this year, while Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris will see new flights to Los Angels and Indianapolis.

Lisbon is also in line for more flying, following the successful launch of New York JFK, with Delta set to add Atlanta to the offering later this year.

As a niche route, Delta will start flights to the Azores, from JFK, this year, while two seasonal routes will also return, Glasgow-JFK and Heathrow-Portland, for the summer period.

All in all, as of this summer, Delta will be operating 88 daily flights to 31 cities in the EMEA region from the United States.

However, the carrier will not have it all its own way in the transatlantic space, with Level, Norwegian, and a host of other low-cost, long-haul carriers seeking a slice of the action.

Koster, though, agues Delta has the right mix of products and prices to keep customers coming back.

“This is a large market that is growing, a market we have operated in for many years, and one of our highest profile international markets, the transatlantic,” he explains.

“We enjoy competing.

“We are offering competitive fares to all types of travellers, to all types of travellers we offer a choice.

“We have the right products and the right diversity of products to meet their needs.

“For example, introducing the Delta Premium Select on the Airbus A350 fleet, or offering the Delta Comfort Plus on more flights.

“But it is not all about price.

“We think travellers are savvy, they recognise what they get.

“When they fly Delta, in the main economy cabin, they get great meals, provided by great staff, with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as Prosecco – bubbles for everybody.

“Passengers get a great product,” he concludes.

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More Information

Delta Air Lines serves more than 180 million customers each year.

With an industry-leading global network, Delta and the Delta Connection carriers offer service to 314 destinations in 54 countries on six continents.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta employs more than 80,000 people worldwide and operates a mainline fleet of more than 800 aircraft.

Including its worldwide alliance partners, Delta offers customers more than 15,000 daily flights.

Find out more on the official website.

Chris O’Toole