A recent report on codesharing for the German ministry of transport has pushed Bonn to the centre of the debate in Europe, as Brussels prepares to launch its own long-awaited study. The report by the quasi-independent state research institute, DLR, is the first of its kind in Europe, following the publication of two separate studies in the US.

Germany took the initiative in Europe after signing an interim bilateral with the US last year in which codesharing featured prominently. 'The original aim was to focus on the bearing that codesharing had on traffic rights but this soon expanded to encompass consumer protection,' explains Stefan Beyhoff, a co-author of the report.

The German interest did not stop there. Transport officials from Bonn persuaded Ecac to set up a taskforce on codesharing early this year. The Germans initially pushed for the committee's work to mirror that of the DLR, but other countries baulked at the complicated issues raised by the traffic rights aspect and opted to concentrate on consumer protection issues. The taskforce is expected to report by the end of the year and the findings will certainly influence thinking in Brussels.

The momentum established by Germany puts Bonn way ahead of other European governments in influencing any eventual European codeshare legislation. A source at DGVII, the European Commission transport directorate, describes the DLR report as 'more critical than the US studies, which we like.'

The European Commission put out a tender for its own study almost a year ago but withdrew it when it heard there were three already in the pipeline. 'We decided to await the results of these studies to see which aspects were well covered,' explains the DGVII source. 'What was missing was the competitive aspect of codesharing.'

The Commission has recently put out a new invitation to tender to produce a study which focuses on the competition aspects. It could conclude that codeshare partners have to meet certain requirements, including agreeing on liability issues and one partner taking full responsibility for the passengers carried on shared flights. The Commission will decide whether to regulate the practice following the report's completion early next year.

The main findings of the DLR study support the reaction of the Ecac members to the traffic rights issues - namely against any attempt to regulate codesharing in the context of bilateral negotiations.

But on consumer protection, the DLR comes out strongly in favour of European-wide legislation to ensure full disclosure of codeshare flights is available to the passenger. The report suggests this be harmonised with any US regulation but adds that Germany should act unilaterally if Brussels procrastinates.

Perhaps the strongest reaction is reserved for the effect codesharing is having on the European CRS code of conduct. The DLR says the code 'is being severely damaged' through screen-padding. City pair flights can only be listed twice on screens, but multiple segment, codeshare services means a city-pair can appear up to six times allowing two codeshare partners to dominate the first screen.

The DGVII source admits this is happening but believes the fault could lie in the interpretation of the code of conduct. 'We are writing to all the CRSs to see if the code of conduct is being applied. If we think it is wrongly applied we will correct that within the code.'

Source: Airline Business