Delta officer talks up international expansion

ATLANTA - Delta Air Lines Inc. will continue to cut domestic capacity over the next several years as it focuses more attention on expanding its international service, and it has its eyes set on Asia, Chief Financial Officer Ed Bastian said Wednesday.

Bastian said at a New York investor conference that the majority of the Atlanta-based airline's international growth going forward will be in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Delta, the third-largest carrier in the U.S., has long sought to gain a foothold in China. It is banking on an ''open skies'' agreement being put in place to allow it to fly there.

''We are going to be expanding services to Asia,'' Bastian said with confidence.

He said the majority of the airline's growth in other parts of the world will be ''self-funded'' by redeploying assets from the domestic side to the international side.

''When I talk about growth, we are going to be doing it in a disciplined manner,'' Bastian said.

New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport is a key domestic gateway for Delta's international service. Delta has had some infrastructure problems at the airport in recent years, and it has been seeking a solution.

Bastian told investors at the Bear Stearns 2007 Global Transportation Conference that ''New York is critical to our strategy going forward.''

No decisions have been made about how much further investment the airline will make in retooling its operations at JFK, Bastian said.

Responding to news reports that Delta is reviving plans to spend as much as $1 billion at JFK, Bastian said flatly, ''We have not made any decisions or announcements regarding a $1 billion investment in facilities at JFK.''

He added, ''We've been very clear we need to find a solution.''

Also at the conference, Bastian reiterated Delta's plans, now that it is out of bankruptcy, to consider selling subsidiary Comair, a regional carrier based in Erlanger, Ky., that provides connecting service for Delta.

''Comair is something we're going to be looking at,'' Bastian said.

Also in the context of possible selling of assets, Bastian mentioned a staffing business that Delta operates. Spokeswoman Betsy Talton said later that Bastian was likely referring to Delta Global Services, which provides temporary staffing to different parts of the airline's business.