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UPDATE 1-Delta Air Lines in talks to add more quarantine-free flights

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Dec 15 (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines Inc is in early talks with governments to add more quarantine-free flights overseas, a company executive said on Tuesday, as the aviation industry turns to such testing-backed programs to revive demand battered by COVID-19.

The U.S. carrier is rolling out two quarantine-free flights this week to Europe, where passengers are required to be tested for the novel coronavirus.

The flights, which are restricted to essential travel to meet government requirements, begin later on Tuesday with a departure from Atlanta to Amsterdam.

“This is the first step,” Perry Cantarutti, Delta’s senior vice president, alliances and international, told reporters on a call. “Our focus is not just across the Atlantic. I think we’d like to see a similar program across the Pacific,” he added.

“It’s a combination of certainly identifying the need and then finding an opportunity where you’ve got government authorities that are willing to have that conversation,” he added, without specifying the governments involved in the talks.

Even as COVID-19 vaccinations kick off this week in the United States and Canada, airlines see testing as the fastest way to resume international travel without quarantines since inoculation campaigns take time.

Airlines are on course to lose $157 billion this year and next, their main global body warned in November, in response to a second wave of coronavirus infections and shutdowns afflicting major markets.

Delta’s tested flights to Amsterdam are operated with its partner KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM.

Delta will operate tested service to Rome three times a week starting on Saturday.

Countries are also taking steps to facilitate travel with Singapore, allowing a limited number of “high economic value” travelers under a “bubble” arrangement starting in January.

New Zealand agreed on Monday to allow quarantine-free travel with Australia in 2021.

Cantarutti said that after an initial trial period through late January, Delta hoped to leverage data and experience from the flights to help expand those routes to leisure travelers and reach agreements on other destinations.

Under the plan, passengers receive one test a few days before travel, another rapid-test shortly before departure in Atlanta, and a third test at the airport after landing.

The carrier is targeting markets for business travel, which has been hit harder than leisure during the pandemic.

“I certainly don’t think this is the new norm,” Cantarutti said of testing. “But as a tool to help us get the people of the world moving again, I think this is a useful program.” (Reporting by Allison Lampert; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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