Air Canada sees an opportunity to forge a closer relationship with United Airlines, five years after the Star Alliance carriers last attempted a joint venture.

"We think there are opportunities for us to get closer in the transborder [market]," says Calin Rovinescu, chief executive of Air Canada, calling United an "important partner" on the sidelines of the IATA annual general meeting in Cancun.

Rovinescu declines to say whether the carriers are in discussions over a possible immunised partnership but calls the question "timely".

Air Canada and United could co-ordinate schedules and pricing, as well as share revenues and jointly market flights, under a transborder joint venture.

Today, the airlines are limited to a codeshare between Canada and the USA, but operate under an immunised partnership with Lufthansa across the Atlantic.

Air Canada and United sought a joint venture in 2012. However, the partnership was never realised after Canada's Competition Bureau blocked them from co-ordinating in 14 transborder markets citing a substantial reduction in competition.

"At the time, many of our competitors, including for example WestJet, were not in some of the markets on the transborder that they are now in," says Rovinescu. "The transborder market has become more competitive."

Air Canada and United were the largest and second largest carriers between Canada and the USA and together flew half the seats in the market in October 2012, when the Competition Bureau released its decision, FlightGlobal schedules data shows.

Today, the airlines together fly nearly 57% of the seats in the market but United has fallen to fourth place behind Delta Air Lines and WestJet.

Chicago-based United has ended a number of routes to Canadian cities, including some to Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon, as the Canadian dollar has weakened against the US dollar during the past few years.

Despite shrinking to Canada, Air Canada president of passenger airlines Ben Smith says United's hubs in some of the largest US cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, make it an "unbelievable" partner in terms of market access.

Air Canada and United first received immunity from US regulators for an "enhanced alliance" between Canada the USA in 1997, and sought an expansion of that authority to include destinations beyond the two countries after open skies was signed in 2005.

United was not immediately available for comment.

Source: Cirium Dashboard