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June 21, 2024
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Last year, Delta and United faced off trying to access the few South African route authorities available.  Since South Africa does not have an airline in the market, the South African government (wisely) allowed both airlines to get frequencies.  Both US carriers wanted more access to Cape Town.  Once you’ve been there, you’ll know why. Here’s CNN’s view on the city.

The US DoT delivered an update to its T-100 datasets, and we updated our model. Take a look.

  • Recovery from the pandemic has been slow.  2022 only reached 70% of 2019.
  • But in the first three months of 2023, the market is already at 51% of 2019 – in three months? That is amazing growth.
  • Notice that South African Airways (SAA) had the most market share before the pandemic.  Delta was not a particularly effective competitor.  Whereas SAA deployed A340-600s, Delta deployed 777LRs.
  • United entered the South African market in 2021 before Delta made its comeback.
  • It’s unclear if Star Alliance played any role here – both United and SAA are Star members. What is clear is United timed its move very well.
  • United is doing better than Delta by some margin, roughly 1.5:1 in traffic.
  • It gets even better on Page 2 – United out-carries Delta in cargo by 6:1.
  • By the way, United deploys 787-9s, and Delta deploys A350-900s.  So Delta has the larger aircraft.

The big kicker is Page 3 of the model, where Cape Town is the hot spot.  United serves Cape Town from Newark and Dulles, while Delta uses Atlanta.  The advantage for United is clear.  United can draw traffic from across the US, just as it claimed in its case before DoT. United also can derive traffic from Canada via its Star Alliance partner, Air Canada.  It appears WestJet does not have the same feed impact for Delta.

The market likely has no space for a resuscitated SAA. This is just as well because the situation at SAA is, to be blunt, opaque.

Your correspondent flew on Delta DL211 last Sunday night. The flight was packed, and two passengers had been on standby for eight days trying to get seats to the US.  For Delta to catch up with United probably requires double the frequency. But that will likely not get South African government approval. Even though such approval will generate more tourism, foreign currency, and jobs.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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