Delta And United Set To Secure Cape Town Rights

The battle between Delta Air Lines and United Airlines for three of the available four frequencies between the US and South Africa is nearing a conclusion—and both carriers are set to be winners.

Credit: Rob Finlayson

The number of available weekly frequencies under the existing US-South Africa air services agreement is set to be increased, thereby allowing Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to launch new routes to Cape Town (CPT).

Delta applied in February to the US Transportation Department (DOT) for the rights to operate flights between Atlanta (ATL) and Cape Town, which it wants to serve 3X-weekly from Nov. 18 using Airbus A350-900s. 

United meanwhile wants to operate a 3X-weekly nonstop Washington Dulles (IAD)-Cape Town route from Nov. 17. Flights would operate year-round using Boeing 787-9 aircraft.

However, under the existing US-South Africa bilateral agreement, air service to South Africa is limited to 21 weekly frequencies for US carriers—only four of which are still available. 

The two airlines have each written to the DOT arguing why they should be awarded three of the four frequencies.

In a surprise move, the DOT said it has engaged in a number of bilateral communications with the Department of Transport of the Republic of South Africa (SADoT), seeking to negotiate an exchange of extrabilateral opportunities.

The US department has therefore requested two additional frequencies in order to accommodate both Delta and United’s planned new routes—and that request is set to be granted.

“We fully expect that SADoT will honor its commitment to permit US carriers to operate two weekly frequencies in addition to the 21 weekly frequencies currently provided for in the agreement,” the DOT said. Authorization of the two additional frequencies is expected by Aug. 15.

In a tentative ruling, Delta and United have therefore each been allocated three weekly frequencies between the US and South Africa, thereby allowing them to launch their respective ALT-CPT and IAD-CPT routes.