Cathay Pacific Airways and Japan Airlines (JAL) have signed a co-operation deal in a move that is widely seen as the latest step by the Japanese carrier to become a member of the American Airlines/British Airways-led oneworld alliance. The deal comes as Asian rival Singapore Airlines (SIA) moves closer to the Star Alliance in a tie-up with Scandinavian carrier SAS.

Hong-Kong based Cathay has signed a basic frequent flier and codeshare agreement with JAL. The codeshare element is expected to be finalised by around May 1999 and is intended to cover flights between Hong Kong and Japanese cities other than Tokyo.

JAL now operates 46 flights a week to Hong Kong, including 25 from Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Nagoya, Okinawa and Osaka. Cathay in turn flies 72 weekly frequencies, of which 44 are to Fukuoka, Nagoya and Osaka.

JAL concedes that "a factor" in its decision to link with Cathay has been a 31% drop in overall traffic between Hong Kong and Japan in 1997 over 1996. Its own traffic for the first six months of 1998 is 41% down on the equivalent period two years ago.

Following the agreement with Cathay, JAL now has bilateral relations with each of the five oneworld alliance members, covering passenger codeshares with American Airlines, Canadian Airlines and Qantas and a cargo tie-up with British Airways.

JAL, however, says it will keep its options open until after it can implement co-operation with American, adding it has "-still to be convinced of the net benefits of multilateral over bilateral deals".

SIAs' link is the second with a Star Alliance member, further signalling its long expected move to join the Lufthansa/United Airlines-led group. SIA already has ties with Lufthansa as well as future Star members Air New Zealand and Ansett.

The SIA/SAS link-up takes effect on 1 April, 1999, and will include codeshare services, joint frequent flier programmes and network scheduling/development. SAS now serves Singapore daily from Copenhagen via Bangkok, while SIA flies three times a week directly between the two cities.

The next stage of SIA's alliance strategy is expected to see a tie-up with United, which would also confirm its fully fledged Star member status. The two carriers are believed to be close to a deal, with United already having agreed to drop its daily service between Hong Kong and Singapore from mid-December as a sweetener. A formal announcement could come later this month when the Star partners meet in Rio de Janeiro.

Source: Flight International