Spanish rivals Air Europa and Spanair are set to extend their domestic battle to the international arena as both carriers launch services to the US and link up with US majors.

Palma-based Spanair was due to launch its first scheduled operation to the US on 20 November, flying from Madrid to Washington/Dulles. This adds to the carrier's existing network of Havana, Rio de Janeiro and 10 domestic destinations.

Spanair's choice of a high-density Boeing 767-300 at the low frequency of four weekly services may pose problems, however. 'The service clearly requires daily operations but it's a question of aircraft availability,' says marketing manager Bartolome Mercadal. He concedes that Spanair needs to gain connecting traffic via agreements with US carriers to be successful on the route.

Help may be at hand, however, via a potential codeshare with United. A link with United would be logical as Spanair is 49 per cent owned by United's partner, SAS. Mercadal confirms that 'Spanair is talking to a lot of US partners at the moment but United would be the best partner for us'. A link with United could ease Spanair into the role of a feeder for the Star Alliance, of which both United and SAS are members, but Mercadal sounds a note of caution. 'The Alliance will have to clear up a lot of things before taking on junior partners,' he says.

Domestic rival Air Europa is already one step ahead of Spanair in the partnership stakes. Palma-based Air Europa has signed a codesharing agreement with Trans World Airlines, effective early 1998, subject to government approval. The two will codeshare from Madrid and Barcelona to Palma and Malaga and to New York/John F Kennedy and numerous beyond points in the US, says Air Europa's marketing director Richard Clark.

One group singularly unimpressed by the competitive moves of Spanish airlines is the Spanish pilots. Pilots staged a one-hour strike at the end of October as a symbolic protest against cost-cutting proposals by the individual airlines. 'Cost-cutting measures which aim to make airlines more competitive could mean personnel cuts and longer working hours for pilots, which could affect aviation safety,' says Carlos Salas of Spanish pilots' union, Sepla.

Meanwhile, Iberia is still trying to reach a new working agreement with its pilots as the carrier integrates resources and schedules with its predominantly domestic carrier, Aviaco. 'A central issue at Iberia is to redeploy its pilots to fly a range of aircraft they're not qualified to fly,' says Frank Wade of consultants SH&E.

To cater for Iberia's reorganised European operations, Iberia is set to have a new terminal at Madrid airport 'large enough for our unified network', says an Iberia source.

Lois Jones

Source: Airline Business