The three US carriers which lack rights beyond Japan are finding ways to bolster their Asian presence through new alliances. Scorning conventional wisdom says that it is not commercially feasible for trans-Pacific services to bypass Japan, they are relying on codeshares to boost access to Asia.

Continental Airlines led the way earlier this year with a codesharing pact with China Airlines between Taipei and San Francisco. In return, CAL adds its code to Continental's connecting flights between San Francisco and Houston.

American Airlines has now entered its own version of the same pact. From the third quarter of this year, American will add its code to CAL's Taipei flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles, while CAL will codeshare on a number of American domestic flights behind those gateways. Starting in July, American will do the same with Singapore Airlines, adding its code to selected trans-Pacific flights operated by SIA to California, while the Singaporean carrier adds its code to American connections to Chicago.

Both the Continental and American deals give them access to Asia without committing aircraft to the long trans-Pacific sectors. Conversely, the Asian carriers gain beyond gateway access to the US domestic network.

Delta has used the same concept with Korean Airlines. Under a deal recently approved by the US Depart-ment of Transportation, Delta now codeshares on KAL's Washington-New York-Seoul and Honolulu-Seoul flights. In return KAL will add its code to Delta's Honolulu-Los Angeles sector. Thus, KAL operates the trans-Pacific flights and Delta provides limited US feed. Delta and KAL entered a separate codesharing agreement last year covering Atlanta, Portland, and Seoul

Delta hopes to extend this to codesharing pacts with more than one Chinese carrier before the end of the year. If it follows the usual formula, it will put its code on Chinese-operated flights to the US west coast and add Chinese codes to some of its domestic feeder flights into those gateways. So far Delta has disclosed no plans to use codesharing to restore links to Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Taipei, abandoned last year.

Closer to home, Washing- ton's grant of antitrust immunity for American's alliance with Canadian Airlines International could give the Dallas-based carrier a major boost in Asia. It already codeshares on Canadian's flights to Hong Kong and Taipei, and could extend that to other Canadian trans-Pacific routes. Antitrust immunity allows the carriers to set joint fares that could cover all sectors from the US through Canada to Asia. Combined with Canadian's extensive Pacific network, this could give American more scope than its US rivals, which only codeshare with Asian partners.

By relying on codeshares to supplement its own limited flights to Asia, American is embarking on a strategy to 'fragment the market' in the North Pacific, explains Robert Crandall, chief executive of American's holding company AMR. A strategy he claims worked well on the North Atlantic. Instead of concentrating on one Asian gateway, such as Tokyo, he envisages routes from a number of North American gateways linking key points in Asia.

Some analysts are sceptical about any North Pacific strategy that bypasses Japan, but these US carriers see codesharing as a viable low cost, low risk alternative.

David Knibb

Source: Airline Business