Last November, when transportation secretary Federico Pena publicly announced the first formal US international aviation policy since 1978, the support from all other parts of the federal government appeared to be unswerving.

The policy, after all, was a product of the Clinton administration's 'collegial' approach to policy making. Officials from the White House, as well as the departments of transportation, state and commerce, had all taken part.

Noticeably absent from the final drafting, however, was the Department of Defence. Or, at least, DOD officials felt they were absent from the process which led to the final draft that was made public in November. Whichever is the case, the DOD has since brought considerable pressure to bear and forced a re-evaluation of policy.

The result is the 'new' new international aviation policy released in April. Though it appears to be the same document, there is a subtle difference in that throughout the statement the term 'national security interests' has been sprinkled generously as a reference point for future international aviation decisions.

This reflects the DOD's interest in two primary points: the Civil Reserve Aircraft Fleet (Craf), meaning the DOD's ability to commandeer long-range aircraft from commercial fleets in times of national emergency; and the impact codesharing could have on this fleet.

This is not an innocuous event. The practical consequence of the DOD's new-found interest in international commercial aviation issues is that defence officials may be sitting in on air service agreement bilateral negotiations between the US and major trading partners.

In particular, defence officials are keenly interested in the national security impact of codesharing. 'We are going to work with them to review major codesharing arrangements,' says Patrick Murphy, acting assistant secretary for international policy at DOT, which will work with DOD 'to assure that they are comfortable that codesharing arrangements are consistent with their needs.'

Though Murphy does not believe that DOD's future presence, either at the negotiating table or in the realm of policy development, will impinge upon the US's bargaining position, others are clearly concerned.

One negotiator, citing DOD's 'cold war attitudes', sees the department's conservative, non market-based pressure affecting how codesharing is dispersed in the future. 'It could be very benign. But if they are sitting at the negotiating table, we will look like a third world government where the military runs the air transport ministry.'

There is also fear of the unknown, as the Washington lawyer for one major US carrier puts it. Simply putting another government agency into the decision making mix adds a currently unquantifiable element to the process, he believes. 'It's a mistake to get them involved. [With Craf], their issues are already well represented anyhow.

Some believe that the consequential impact of such participation may be an end to DOT's 'never saw a codesharing alliance it didn't like' approach to proposed partnerships between US and non-US airlines. Though alliances already established will not face DOD review, it is probable that national security issues will be a significant consideration in future codeshare authorisations.

Source: Airline Business