Gilbert Sedbon/PARIS

THE USA HAS temporarily headed off the threat of serious confrontations in Asia and Europe over airline traffic rights. In the last week of March, US Department of Transportation officials have secured a cargo deal with Japan and agreed with France to allow a major increase in flights in exchange for a resumption of talks to secure a new bilateral accord.

Although Tokyo and Washington reached basic agreement on new air-cargo rights between the two countries, they continue to disagree over the bigger problem of passenger services. The immediate focus of attention is Japan's attempts, frustrated by the USA, to increase services to Kona and Hawaii. On a wider front, Tokyo wants a complete revision of the 1952 bilateral, which it says is highly favourable to US airlines

The framework for the cargo deal was hammered out in Tokyo, after five rounds of strained negotiations. The two sides have been trying to reach agreement since July's interim settlement of FedEx's beyond flights to Subic Bay.

US transportation secretary Federico Pena and Japanese transport minister Yoshiuki Kamei hope to sign an agreement in Washington this month, once the terms of the deal are finalised.

The new agreement will give Japan Airlines (JAL) the same unlimited fifth-freedom rights with the USA as incumbent US cargo carrier FedEx enjoys in Japan. JAL also receives unlimited co-terminal rights and three additional destinations in the USA.

JAL has no immediate plans to launch cargo services beyond the USA to third countries, but is "...studying proposals for future implementation".

In addition, Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) receives 18 more weekly frequencies, up from 11, and unlimited beyond services. NCA's US destinations will be increased from four to seven.

UPS Airlines, in return, will be given access to Kansai with up to 12 weekly flights and beyond rights to two other destinations. UPS will be permitted to carry Japanese cargo to one of these beyond destinations six times a week.

One new US carrier, yet to be designated, will be granted six weekly flights to any Japanese destination except Tokyo. It will be allowed beyond rights to a third country, but without picking up Japanese cargo.

Incumbent US cargo carriers, FedEx, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines, will have increased flexibility to operate between any US city and three additional Japanese destinations, combined with their existing rights.

In Paris, meanwhile, negotiators headed off a potentially damaging dispute when the USA agreed to reverse a decision blocking a French request for a 24% increase in capacity between April and October - an extra 500 flights. In exchange, France dropped a threat to rescind approval for a similar increase in US-originated flights and agreed to resume talks renegotiating a 47-year old bilateral agreement which collapsed in 1993 after Paris threw out a US demand for a 75% increase in flights.

Some commentators think that the US refusal in March was a tactic to get the French back to the negotiating table, allowing Washington to pursue its policy of signing "open-skies" agreements with European countries - to which several, including Germany, have already agreed.

French transport secretary, Anne-Marie Idrac, however, appears not to share the same goals, saying: "We will discuss opening negotiations on a gradual liberalisation, which, for my part, I would not call 'open skies'."

Source: Flight International