Peter Conway LONDON Airline alliances tend to generate much rhetoric about cargo partnerships, but little action. However, the tie-up between KLM and Alitalia, announced in July, looks set to be different.

Cargo departments within the two carriers have already gone further in their planning than KLM's long-running tie-up with Northwest. In that relationship, transatlantic belly capacity is supposed to be marketed jointly, but it has hardly been well-publicised and KLM retains its own US sales force.

KLM appears to be moving faster and further with Alitalia. In April, they jointly launched Select, a time-definite cargo service, the first co-ordinated product of its kind in the air freight sector.

Existing freight co-operation between the two carriers has also been growing. By coincidence, both operate joint Boeing 747 freighters with Japan's Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) to Tokyo out of their respective hubs in Amsterdam and Milan. Last year, KLM quietly extended this by taking some freighter space out of Milan on the NCA-Alitalia flights.

Further joint freighter routes appear possible. Milan is surrounded by one of Europe's prime industrial areas, which generates a high volume of high-yielding air cargo. But only about one-third of this flies from Italian airports. The rest is sent by road to other major air freight hubs such as Frankfurt, Zurich and Paris.

Alitalia has so far failed to stem this flow, but the addition of the respected KLM Cargo name might do the trick. KLM, meanwhile, needs new markets. Although Schiphol's central location has made it Europe's third-largest cargo hub after London and Frankfurt, further growth is limited by increasingly tough noise restrictions and competition from other northern European airports. Access to Milan could offer KLM huge new business opportunities.

Source: Airline Business