We are really seeing the formation of a new SkyTeam from the inside-out with Delta as King and peripheral airlines like Aeroflot and Saudia locked out. I expect Delta to take a lot more control than the stake implies.
I disagree this is just keeping up with JL/NH, I think they will leapfrog them. The NRT/HND situation makes it very difficult for JL/NH to grow. ICN is the premier gateway to connect and can grow.
= If ICN was such a premier gateway, KE would have been in the black - and, so would OZ. Despite their economic success, ICN remains #2 to NRT to generate business demand, and premium leisure demand. True, KE has been a basket case of management, and DL will help here, but I don't think KE/DL can successfully challenge JL/AA or UA/NH, especially with no China. I am sure JL/NH/UA/AA are more than happy with DL/KE being the dominant carrier on the US-MNL itinerary ...
ICN is almost as twice large as NRT...
I think that the metric of "international passengers" skews the facts.
For instance, AMS is right up there but given AMS's positioning, international flights also include a huge number of 1 hour flights to nearby cities.
Also in terms of demand, very few of those people actually O&D to/from AMS, so you are counting many pax twice, while NRT is a major O&D airport first and a connecting hub second.
About the same can be said about ICN. A lot of international pax but mostly connecting and few O&D, so you count everything twice.
Aso, if you look at the busiest routes from ICN, you already have 3 routes to Japan in the top 5 accounting for some 9 million pax and that's without GMP across the beach where most of the Japan-Seoul O&D is.
If we have to compare NRT/ICN, for an operator like DL, it makes more sense to have an Asian hub with a max. amount of O&D to each of their U.S. hubs as a first priority, second priority would be pax originating at that Asian hub and connecting in a DL hub to other destinations within the Americas. Pax originating at the DL hubs are best served with direct flights to their Asian destinations rather than via ICN on KE. Pax originating in the America's outside the DL hubs are also best served by direct flights, otherise we are talking about 2-stop itineraries.
In that sense, ICN will fall short because Seoul isn't much of a destination and as an origin market it's meeeeh.
When landing in NRT in the morning, I always see 6 or 7 Delta tails parked at the satellite.
Soon that action will move to HND, but while ICN will have significance in the DL network especially for the secondary destinations that DL doesn't operate, I think that DL is increasing the minority stake as a defensive move because they just doesn't want to see KE change management and strategies from being a Delta and Skyteam partner. That would unfold as a nightmare for DL but also AF/KLM.
I would be surprised if DL isn't thinking about buying AA or UA someday and merging into OW. At their current rate of profits, they are dwarfing both so I'm sure that the thought is crossing their minds.