Delta lead contender for Shanghai route

Delta Airlines Inc. is the frontrunner to win the first new direct flights between the U.S. and China that are to be granted under the bilateral agreement reached in May, according to a report.

Delta (DAL) could offer daily flights directly between Atlanta and Shanghai by next March or possibly earlier if its application for the new route is successful, The Wall Street Journal reported in its online edition..

Delta is the only U.S. carrier that has filed an application with the Department of Transportation for the new route, according the Journal, which cited an unnamed department spokesman.

Rival airlines may emerge as bidders for the new route, with U.S. Airways Group (LCC) widely viewed as a possible contender, however the carrier may defer in favor of new flights that would begin in 2009, the Journal reported.

The new route Delta has applied for is intended for airlines that currently do not offer China flights, eliminating several U.S. carriers from the bidding, the Journal reported. Further narrowing the field, few other airlines have the necessary long-range aircraft to cross the Pacific, the report said.