NICHOLAS IONIDES ATI SINGAPORE Vietnam and the USA have finally signed a bilateral to allow codesharing. That could be the prelude to a full air-services accord when talks resume in June.

The codeshare agreement was signed early in March in Hanoi and is described as a "memorandum of discussions", although it takes immediate effect. It was to have been signed last September, but its ratification was delayed.

"The signing of the memorandum paves the way for US and Vietnamese air carriers to work together, and/or with air carriers of other countries, to codeshare on flights in each other's country and to provide other types of services such as co-ordinated schedules, transfers, frequent-flyer programmes and other types of co-operative marketing arrangements that will significantly enhance the options available to travellers," the two sides say in a joint statement.

"Recognising that bilateral commercial air-service negotiations are often complex and take time, the two sides intend to permit these initial codesharing and other co-operative commercial relationships on an immediate basis between the air carriers of the USA and Vietnam and with those of third countries to provide more convenient transportation services between the two countries," they add.

Early in 1998, the two sides held their first formal round of air talks since the former enemies re-established diplomatic relations in 1995, but they failed after two days in Hanoi.

Carriers from the USA and Vietnam still cannot operate their own aircraft into each other's countries as no air-services agreement exists. But a new two-day round of talks is due to open on 14 June in Washington DC.

Delta Air Lines is seen as the most likely to secure an initial codeshare agreement with Vietnam Airlines, possibly building on its budding global alliance with Air France. The French carrier has its own strong historic ties with the Hanoi-based airline.

Observers say that a tie-up could see the Vietnamese carrier adding its code to Delta flights operating between the USA and Paris, with Delta adding its code to services that are operated by Air France and Vietnam Airlines between Paris and Hanoi.

Source: Airline Business