Judging from attitudes recently expressed in Tokyo, codesharing is not the key to solving the Japan-US dispute. It may have provided the way out of the US-Germany bilateral impasse, but with Japan trying to instill pan-Asian unity on aeropolitical issues, Tokyo believes extensive codesharing rights for US carriers would upset its neighbours.

American, Continental, and Delta, with only turnaround rights in Japan, are keen to form alliances with Japanese carriers that would give them access through Japan to the rest of Asia.

Japan Airlines is unwilling to consider intra-Asian codesharing with other US carriers, while FedEx, Northwest, and United can compete with unlimited route rights beyond Japan. 'Until the US carriers with rights beyond Japan are prepared to codeshare, it's a little difficult [to consider doing so with other US carriers],' says JAL.

The Japanese authorities also remain resistant to offering intra-Asian codesharing to other US carriers. In a characteristic understatement, Kosuke Shibata, director of the international air transport division in the ministry of transport, says: 'In the Japan-Asia market I personally don't see that as the solution.'

Part of the problem, Shibata explains, is that other Asian nations would view intra-Asian codesharing between Japanese and US carriers as a coordinated attack on them. Shibata fears 'that may cause trouble' as Japan tries to cement pan-Asian unity in aeropolitical relations with other countries. The only codesharing authority Tokyo seems willing to concede to US carriers is on third and fourth freedom trans-Pacific sectors.

However, JAL could be partly appeased were Washington to offer Japanese carriers codeshare rights on US domestic routes. JAL thinks such codesharing rights would help correct the imbalance in the present bilateral. The carrier's only professed aim in a domestic US codeshare is 'access to the US for our passengers originating in Japan'.

Nevertheless, talks between a number of US and Japanese carriers continue. Northwest Airlines is talking to Japan Air System about feeding Japanese domestic traffic into the US carrier's flights at Tokyo/Narita - a move that Japan's big two are likely to oppose. All Nippon acknowledges that codesharing is also on its agenda with Delta Airlines, but is unwilling to elaborate on what type.

Talks between JAL and American Airlines continue and senior officials seem pleased with the results of a frequent flyer partnership they launched earlier this year. However, Washington's opposition to Japanese codesharing on domestic US routes is unlikely to change until Japan-US relations improve, and even then it is unlikely that the US would accept JAL's view that such rights must be non-reciprocal to remedy the bilateral's existing imbalance.

Source: Airline Business