IN FOCUS: American seeks more codeshares, despite opposition

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American Airlines is seeking to expand the number of codeshares it has with other airlines, even as it gains Qatar Airways as a Oneworld partner.

Tom Horton, chief executive of the Fort Worth-based Oneworld member, says that it will pursue any partnerships that make the airline "stronger and more competitive", at an event announcing Qatar's entry into Oneworld in New York on 8 October.

"One of the great things about Oneworld is that each member can pursue things that are at greatest commercial value to that airline," he says. "We'll be looking to do things that create the most value for American Airlines and make us stronger and more competitive."

Internationally, the airline is in codeshare discussions with Dubai-based Emirates, despite having an existing agreement with its Abu Dhabi-based competitor Etihad and new alliance partner Qatar.

Horton says that American will also seek to increase the number of partners it has in China and expand flying on its own metal to the country, in response to questions regarding Oneworld's lack of a domestic partner in the country at the event.

"Over time I think that we will seek to buttress our alliance partner presence in China and I can guarantee you with 550 more airplanes on order we look to do more flying into China," he says.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways and Iberia parent International Airlines Group (IAG), adds: "I'll make a bold prediction that members of the Oneworld alliance will have codeshare agreements with members of other alliances in China. So despite the fact that Star and SkyTeam frown upon that sort of behaviour, I suspect that it will become a feature of doing business with the Chinese carriers."

Air China is a member of Star alliance while China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines are members of SkyTeam.

On the domestic front, American plans to expand its codeshares with Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Hawaiian Airlines following approval from the US bankruptcy court to implement a new term sheet with its pilots. The carrier has limited codeshares with both Alaska and Hawaiian and an interline agreement with JetBlue.

Pilots oppose expanding codeshares without changes at American. At least four uniformed crewmembers picketed in front of the Oneworld event venue on 8 October, serving as a visual reminder that the airline is still in the midst of an on-going contract dispute with its Allied Pilots Association (APA)-represented pilots.

"We're protesting the outsourcing of our jobs and the further erosion of our careers," says captain Sam Mayer, a New York-based 767 captain at American. "We're trying to stop the total outsourcing of aircraft and maintenance."

He explains that with expanded codeshares and joint ventures a passenger can now book flights on the airline's website but never set foot on American metal. In addition, he says that the airline is looking at outsourcing some heavy maintenance activities to firms outside the USA.

American has said that the vast majority of its contract maintenance is done in the USA, and not commented on reports of discussions with international third-party providers.

Mayer and his colleagues at the airline have been flying without a contract since the bankruptcy court judge approved American's request to reject its existing agreement with its pilots on 4 September.

Numerous maintenance issues have beset the airline in recent weeks. It temporarily removed 48 Boeing 757-200s from service in order to add an additional metal tie as back-up to faulty seat lock plunger mechanisms last week after rows of seats came loose in flight. In addition, there has been an increased number of flight cancellations attributed to maintenance reports at time of departure since mid-September.