(Corrects attribution of quote in fifth paragraph)
By Tim Hepher
TOULOUSE, France, May 28 (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines is interested in forging alliances with carriers in Asia, the airline’s president said on Thursday.
Ed Bastian, speaking at a media event in France, also said he expected Italy’s Alitalia to remain part of a transatlantic joint venture with Delta and Air France-KLM despite its growing ties with new 49 percent shareholder Etihad.
“We are constantly pursuing opportunities where we can find good matches. In Europe we have partners and great coverage ... Alitalia is still in our partnership and we are going to continue that way, so there is no change.”
The tie-up between Alitalia and Etihad has however caused some friction between Air France-KLM and the Italian carrier.
On future partnerships, Bastian said: “I think there may be some opportunities in Asia that arise”. Delta is already a partner of Korean Air Lines and may seek to strengthen that, he added.
Bastian predicted further consolidation between smaller U.S. carriers, but not among the big four U.S. airlines.
“I don’t see the big carriers getting any bigger necessarily ... but among the smaller guys, will there be consolidation? I think that is probably inevitable.”
He was speaking as Delta took delivery of the airline’s first new Airbus aircraft since it merged with Northwest in 2009, sparking a series of large-scale airline tie-ups.
Delta ordered 40 A330 aircraft in 2013 including 10 A330s. It recently placed an order for A330s and A350s in a blow to Boeing, which later said it had lost because it had been unable to supply 787 Dreamliners as early as Delta had wanted.
Bastian denied this, saying Boeing had delivery positions available and had lost for competitive reasons.
He sidestepped a question on whether he could be tapped as a future successor to Chief Executive Richard Anderson, directing the reporter to either Anderson or the Delta board.
Skyteam member Delta has increased its exposure to the UK and Latin America in recent years, taking a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic Airways and expanding shared routes and marketing with Mexico’s Grupo Aeromexico SAB de CV and Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA.
In Asia, it serves 17 destinations compared with 31 for United Airlines, including Australia/New Zealand. (Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by James Regan and David Holmes)