Delta Air Lines this week began a twice-weekly service between Abuja and New York, the first direct flight connecting the Nigerian capital and the United States.

The world's biggest airline says the new service would strengthen business and tourism between Nigeria and the United States. Delta expects to expand the Abuja-New York service to three flights per week starting next month.

Abuja is the second destination in Nigeria to be served by Delta Air Lines. The airline's route to Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, is one of its most profitable.

Delta's commercial manager, Bobby Bryan, told reporters that Nigeria was a key aspect of the airline's international network plans.

"I want to emphasize our commitment to the Nigerian market," he said. "This new flight is a key part of Delta's African expansion and ensures that we maintain our position as the number one US carrier to Nigeria and more broadly to Africa."

Delta currently operates flights from the United States to five African destinations; Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa. International routes have become more profitable options for U.S. airlines struggling under a weakening domestic economy.

Delta plans to switch to bigger aircraft in July to cope with the high demand for its service between Lagos and Atlanta, offering an additional 50 seats for the Lagos market.

The leading U.S. carrier says it is also excited about the additional cargo opportunities the new Abuja route will provide, offering same-day shipment to many cities across the United States.