Steve Sear is President – International and Executive Vice President – Global Sales for Delta Air Lines. Steve is responsible for the Asia Pacific, Atlantic and Latin regions, as well as Alliance strategy, partner development and Global Sales. In an interview with Ifeoma Okeke, he speaks of the airline’s strategic partnerships, which it leverages to enhance its services and grow connectivity across various countries. Excerpts
What makes your strategies and partnerships different from other airlines?
We have had alliances in the last 20 years. So it is really in our DNA to pride in that alliance environment. We believe in interdependence versus independence.
We believe we can be a lot better if we are partnering with the best of class companies in each of the countries that they represent. So by creating joint ventures in various countries, we share the border lines together with which we do not just sell to each other, but it requires us time to build a trust about the best network and best services.
Customers are the most convenient in benefits across the Atlantic, especially in the case of AirFrance/KLM and Virgin. All these are equity investments. This is almost like a booster in terms of the commitment that we have. We are now lifetime partners of AirFrance KLM and Virgin.
This further aligns the companies and the companies’ commitments to providing best services and customer experience between the carriers. So having these representations accelerate the leaning from both sides and also enhance the services that we provide so that it will keep us in a leading position. Some of us still enjoy the privilege till today and we have high customer market around the world.
In the future do you intend to take more equities in other airlines?
We don’t have to plans for that. We are always open to opportunities as they present themselves. This year we launched our Air Mexico equity and we implementing the joint venture as we speak. It is really a great platform for both companies to grow successful. For example, Mexico was number 24 in the market and now number one. So we are interested in the customer base in the countries where we operate as we grow together to be able to provide more services across the border.
If you were to proceed to a merger, if permissible who will be taking over whom?
That is not our strategy. Our strategy is to have the joint ventures themselves with the Allegheny Technologies Inc.’s (ATI) to be able to leverage our commercial cooperation. The equity piece particularly on a minority stake allows us a deeper alignment and gets a partner for the right concept. I think it is the joint ventures and the minority equity stake that really make the difference.
When Boeing predicted that in the next 20 years we will be need about 640 thousand new pilots. How do you deal with this and in the cause of admission, how do you deal with shortage of slots in airports especially in Europe because I know that today there is shortage of slots especially in London and some other places in Europe?
At Delta we have well exceeded the supply of candidates or the demand of candidates for the supply that we have, as we hire more people. As we operate our airline, it gives us more confidence to be able to employ adequate pilots to serve our growth. We will grow as the market grows and you will see Delta grow faster. In challenging times, you might see not quite as much growth. Again that is the beauty of the alliance partnerships. When we are able to work together, we are able to deal with whatever sort of economic challenges that confront us. Together we are able to weather the storms.
From my understanding, Delta Airline is the only US airline that flies directly from Nigeria to Atlanta and very soon you will be flying to New York directly. So I think Nigeria is a big market for you. So, what new innovations are you bringing into Africa and Nigeria?
Africa is really important to us because Delta is the only United States (US) carrier providing direct service into Africa from US. We also have a great partnership with Kenya airways which we will continue to work with them in terms of increased corporations. Again, for partnerships, AirFrance and KLM have outstanding networks into Africa. So, we always love to work with them to allow that one-stop convenience to our partners from Africa. So, we have great coverage and we think there is more to go. We have to watch how the economy goes. We will always look for opportunities to continue growing.