Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE Paul Lewis/WASHINGTON DC

Japan Airlines (JAL) has entered into a new partnership with British Airways and is deepening its ties with American Airlines in a move bringing it a step nearer to possible future membership of the oneworld alliance.

JAL remains coy about its membership ambitions, however. "For the moment, we are not entering oneworld. We are exploring bilateral codesharing, and we are studying the global alliance concept,"says the carrier.

The bilateral alliance with BA will begin on 1 April with a merger of the companies' frequent flier schemes, and introducing codesharing from late summer on daily services between London Heathrow and Osaka's Kansai International. Both arrangements require government approval.

Up to now BA has not operated a mileage award programme in Japan, awarding its Executive Club members All Nippon Airways (ANA)miles instead. This BA/ANA relationship will end on 31 March, and BA will establish its own frequent flier scheme in Japan.

JAL and American, which already have an operating frequent flier link, have now applied to the US Department of Transportation (DoT) for approval to begin codesharing on flights between the USA and Japan, and beyond, from 10 May. Codeshare approval is being sought under the provisions of 1998 amendments to the US-Japanese bilateral agreement.

The two carriers initially plan to operate joint services on JAL routes from Tokyo to Osaka and Nagoya in Japan and Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco in the US and Singapore and Bangkok.

In addition, JAL will codeshare on American's routes between Tokyo and Chicago, Dallas, San Jose and Seattle, as well as between Osaka and Dallas and on domestic services between Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. American also wants to share its code on JAL domestic services, and on routes from the USA to Bangkok and Singapore via Tokyo.

More codeshares are planned later in 1999, including between Japan and Hawaii, Guam/Saipan, beyond Japan to Asia and beyond the USA to Canada and South America. JAL will also codeshare on new American flights from Tokyo to Boston and New York when they begin.

Despite these new agreements and existing co-operation with other oneworld airlines such as Canadian Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways and Qantas, JAL has maintained a cautious approach to full alliance membership. The airline says it is worried about the costs of joining and the implications alliance membership could have on existing partnerships with non-oneworld carriers.

Meanwhile, oneworld partner Canadian Airlines has concluded a marketing pact with Alaska Airlines and affiliate Horizon Air, which already has a similar deal with American Airlines. From 1 April, the deal involves codesharing and frequent flier programmes.

Canadian, which has unveiled a rebranding programme which includes a new logo, new uniforms, and the dropping of the "International" from its name, says the deal with Alaska expands its presence in key West Coast markets while strengthening traffic flow through the Vancouver hub.

The "international" element has been eliminated in an move to promote Canadian's domestic services, which are second in passenger numbers to Air Canada. The makeover comes despite the airline being in the red, with a loss of C$40 million ($26 million) expected for 1998. This comes after the first profit in more than a decade was recorded in 1997.

Source: Flight International