Delta Air Lines expects to launch daily nonstop service between Shanghai-Pudong Airport (PVG) and its Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) hub in June 2020.

The Atlanta-based carrier plans to use 306-seat Airbus A350-900s on the route—aircraft that are proving popular in the region. Delta has 10 of its 11 A350s flying in the Pacific—part of a revamp that included retiring its Boeing 747-400s.

Delta is asking for seven weekly US-China “Zone 1” frequencies—which cover flights to Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai—to operate the route. Zone 1 flying is limited per the US-China Air Transport Agreement but Delta noted there are seven available frequencies, thanks in part to recent scheduled changes by Hawaiian Airlines and Chicago-based United Airlines that reduces service to China.

The flight would be the first nonstop service between MSP and China. Delta currently serves Tokyo from the Midwestern hub and has announced plans to add service to Seoul next April.

“This new US-China flight will add key inter-gateway competition for the traveling public,” Delta said. “The proposed flight will also connect with China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines partner hubs in Shanghai, allowing onward travel options for passengers seeking access to interior China.”

The service also would help replenish a recent decline in service from “central US” airports, Delta said. Data provided to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) by Delta shows that total seats between China and major central US hubs are down 30% in July 2019 schedules compared to this past July.

Part of that change comes via changes by Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines at its Chicago O’Hare hub. American has pulled flights from O’Hare to both Beijing Capital International (PEK) and PVG from its winter 2018-19 schedule, citing market conditions. The airline has asked DOT for a waiver that would permit it to pause service,s but keep the route rights through Nov. 1, 2019 at the latest.

“A rapid growth in capacity that has outpaced passenger demand has created an environment that has produced weak forward bookings in all cabins,” American told DOT. “As such, offering daily nonstop ORD-PEK and ORD-PVG service in the current economic environment is not commercially sustainable.”

Delta during its third-quarter earnings call reported strong demand on its Chinese services. 

“Our Pacific-based revenues in China, specifically, have done quite well in the quarter, especially given some of the added capacity that we had put into the market,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said. “Our recent launch of Atlanta-Shanghai is doing well within our range of expectations.” Delta launched the route in July.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com