Within a few months of establishing its joint venture with Korean Air, US-based Delta Airlines is strengthening its presence in Korea.

Delta signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC) which would involve more collaboration between the airline and the airport, which will involve developing what both see “a leading hub in Northeast Asia.”

“This is our first partnership agreement with a foreign airline,” said Kwang Soo Lee, IIAC’s Executive Vice President. “This is a partnership for the future. Working together with Delta, a leading global airline, we can achieve our mutual goal to develop a world-class hub airport.”

"We are excited about the new partnership with Incheon International Airport to build the most convenient hub in Asia, reducing connecting times and offering the best-in-class products at Incheon’s Terminal 2, with our joint venture partner Korean Air," said Matteo Curcio, Delta’s Vice President – Asia Pacific, based in Seoul. “I am confident that ICN will be the leading hub in Asia in offering the best transfer experience for customers from both sides of the Pacific.”

At present, Delta operates flights from Seoul to Atlanta, Detroit, and Seattle. Starting April of next year, Delta will begin services to Minneapolis/St. Paul in Minnesota. The airline operates flights from recently opened Terminal 2 at Incheon with joint venture partner Korean Air, along with SkyTeam alliance partners Air France and KLM.

This move comes as Delta’s has shifted its attention for connections from Tokyo-Narita hub to Seoul. The joint venture and the shift to Seoul could be attributed to the decline of Delta’s hub at Tokyo-Narita, which was acquired the hub after it merged with Northwest Airlines. For decades it served as a primary transfer hub between flights from North America to Asia. At its height, Delta had flights from Tokyo to major Asian and US destinations including Los Angeles, Taipei, and Bangkok. It will probably keep its presence in Japan, serving routes such as the tourist market to Honolulu.

While competitors such as United and American have local airline partners (All Nippon Airways/Japan Airlines) in Japan, Delta and the SkyTeam alliance are the odd ones out. SkyTeam has a stronger presence in China and Korea, which is partly why Delta is putting more effort to its joint venture with Korean Air.

With the joint venture, it could do as United has done at Tokyo by keeping its US flights while shifting intra-Asia transfers to Star Alliance partner All Nippon Airways. Travellers could take a Delta flight from Atlanta to Seoul, connecting to Korean Air's destinations in Asia. Korean Air also has a strong presence in North America, so travellers could travel the whole way with them. Delta may not need to add intra-Asia routes from Seoul while it adds more flights from the US.

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