Airline efforts to establish working arrangements for the recently unveiled oneworld alliance are intensifying, with the first meeting of chief executives from the five founding members and the proposed creation of a new common ground-handling operation in Europe.

The heads of American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways and Qantas met last week in Europe in the first of a series of planned quarterly get togethers. The meeting, believed to have been held in Madrid, focused on the progress and direction of oneworld since it was formally unveiled in London on 21 September.

Top of the agenda is a BA proposal to establish a new common ground-handling company in Europe, tentatively named Casandra. The suggested franchise operation is being targeted initially at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and will be followed possibly by Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

Airline sources say the initiative has met difficulties. American wants job guarantees, and the French authorities want American to transfer its five daily Paris services from Orly to Charles de Gaulle. "The plan is, if we move to Charles de Gaulle, the jobs would stay," says the US carrier.

Casandra is viewed as a pilot concept that will be limited initially to Europe, but which could be developed elsewhere. "We are working to see where we can get synergy, with the main focus on customer service, and ground handling is key to that," says a oneworld airline executive

The five carriers have established a large number of joint working groups to bring individual member operations into alignment, ahead of finalising detailed working arrangements in early 1999. Work includes interfacing ticketing and reservation systems, airport signage, check-in areas, common lounge access and standardising frequent flier plans.

Source: Flight International