Washington is trying to steer a steady course in renewed Japan-US passenger talks, but it is clear that Tokyo hopes to capitalise on the growing rift between the two groups of US carriers. The incumbents - United, Northwest and FedEx - enjoy rights beyond Japan, but the so-called MoU carriers - American, Delta and Continental - do not.

Tokyo opened the first round of talks by offering unlimited third and fourth freedom rights to two US carriers and more access to Japan for other US carriers. Washington rejected this as an attempt 'to leverage the divide' between US airlines, while repeating its mantra that Tokyo must first honour existing rights before proposing anything new.

That refers to the latest round of applications by US incumbents for more flights beyond Japan. Northwest wants to fly to Jakarta and FedEx to Jakarta, Manila and Shanghai. Washington insists Northwest and FedEx are entitled to add these flights under the existing bilateral; Tokyo concedes they can add blind sectors, but any fifth freedom traffic is subject to limits that the US carriers refuse to accept.

After the first round of talks ended in acrimony, both sides refused to renew temporary approvals that expired in July. This cut United's Los Angeles-Tokyo frequencies, forced JAL to scale back Sendai-Hawaii flights, and reduced JAL's Hiroshima- Hawaii service to charter status.

Widening the rift between US carriers, Washington is holding approval of Delta's codesharing accord with All Nippon Airways hostage because of Tokyo's non-approval of the new routes sought by North- west and FedEx. FedEx is calling for more sanctions.

David Knibb

Source: Airline Business