Prior to next week’s scheduled bilateral aviation talks in Tokyo, executives of Northwest Airlines reaffirmed the carrier’s position Sept. 18 to firmly support an “open skies” policy that would fully liberalize the air service market between the United States and Japan.

“Northwest’s primary reason for supporting an open skies approach is because this is what is best for consumers,” James Lawrence, the airline’s executive vice president, told a news conference. “Open skies will lead to more flights, better overall service levels and more fare competition.”

Although the Japanese and U. S. governments decided to set a deadline to reach a new agreement by the end of September and plan to hold five days of official vice-ministerial aviation talks starting Sept. 15, the sides remain at odds over the new pact.

The U.S. insists the new pact should be a transitional accord toward the open skies approach, while Japan rejects the proposal and maintains that an interim accord that does not include the open skies policy should be reviewed in four years.

Under the current bilateral agreement, Northwest is the biggest service provider in the lucrative U.S.-Japan aviation market, so it is a primary beneficiary of the existing regime. In the U.S., demands to call for an interim agreement with Japan has been on the rise from the aviation and tourism sectors as well as local governments that hope to increase economic exchanges with Japan.

Lawrence stressed that other airlines, including Alaska Airlines and America West Airlines, also favor the open skies policy. At the same time, Lawrence expressed a negative view on the reallocation of slots at Narita airport in the process of liberalizing the market. Northwest at present maintains a strong presence at the nearly full-capacity airport.

“We don’t think there is reason to change well-proven methods of establishing slots and departure times which exist today. … Simply, the air system needs to be developed further,” Lawrence said, referring to the expansion of the airport and use of other airports in the country.

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