After a closely fought contest over the last remaining rights for US carriers to fly to Cape Town, both Delta and United have emerged victorious.

There were four frequencies available to US carriers of the total of 21, and both carriers had applied for thrice-weekly flights.

The applications by the two airlines resulted in the US Department of Transport asking the South African Department of Transport to authorise more flights on the route, increasing the total from 21 to 23, and the SA government agreed. Both airlines now have extra flights for their winter season – but they must both launch their flights within 90 days of November 17.

Delta applied for (and received) three direct flights per week from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Cape Town International Airport (CPT). Delta has already said it will use its flagship A350-900 on the route, the same aircraft that it uses on its Johannesburg route. The carrier has six flights a week between ATL and JNB. It also has rights to run a triangular route, JNB-CPT-ATL, which will start later this year, and has already indicated that it would keep both of the routes.

United will operate a direct flight three times a week between Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Cape Town. The airline has said it would use the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. United already operates direct flights from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New York to Johannesburg and to Cape Town.

In a statement, United said it was grateful for the DOT’s action. “We extend our sincere gratitude to the Department of Transportation, as well as the numerous government and community leaders, airports, customers and employees who supported this application, for recognizing the tremendous benefits to tourism, commerce and diplomacy that a direct link between Cape Town and Washington DC provides,” United President Brett Hart said.

Delta said it looked forward to commencing its service. “Delta is pleased that its application has been tentatively approved to operate a direct service from Atlanta-Cape Town,” the airline said in a statement. “We hope to provide our customers with more choice of travel between the US and South Africa later this year.”

The two airlines still need formal approvals from the South African DOT.

Read more from Tourism Update