The global aviation industry faces increased competition among the three biggest airline groupings now that both of Japan’s leading carriers are part of the alliances.

Japan Airlines Corp. on April 1 gained full membership in the oneworld alliance, and JAL said this will help turn around the fortunes of the struggling carrier, which has been hit by rising jet fuel costs and a series of safety glitches.

With the addition of JAL, Royal Jordanian and Malev Hungarian, oneworld is now a 10-airline grouping whose combined fleet of 2,382 aircraft serves almost 700 airports in 142 countries and areas and offers 9,241 flights a day.

Being part of the alliance, which also includes American Airlines and British Airways, allows oneworld members to offer smooth connections, minimize layover time and introduce passengers to each other under their code-sharing arrangements.

“Our airline would like to use this participation as a chance to bolster the familiarity of the JAL brand in the world,” JAL President Haruka Nishimatsu said at a March 1 news conference that was also attended by the other oneworld airline heads.

“We expect to post 3 billion yen more in revenues in the initial year of membership,” he said.

Joining oneworld represents a change in policy for JAL, which previously opted not to take part in an alliance. Going it alone, JAL served 24 countries and areas.

Membership in oneworld enables JAL to cut expenditures on jet fuel, which alliance members procure jointly, while receiving help from alliance partners in selling seats.

Passengers with membership in JAL’s frequent flyer program now can earn and redeem mileage points and awards on all other oneworld carriers.

In addition, JAL officials note the airline now expects greater revenues from purchasers of round-the-world tickets. JAL used to find it impossible to offer such tickets using its own aircraft and routes.

The world’s airlines began forming alliances in 1997 when United Airlines and Lufthansa teamed up with other carriers to create the Star Alliance.

Two years later, oneworld came into existence, followed by SkyTeam, the creation of Northwest, KLM, Air France and others.

By now, almost all of the world’s major airlines are signed up to one of the three camps.

JAL’s archrival, All Nippon Airways Co., which joined Star Alliance in 1999, saw the arrangement add 15 billion yen to its revenues through March 2005. Its international operations have since returned to the black.

The Shinjuku arm of Japan’s largest travel agency, JTB Corp., reported a tripling in the number of customers who purchased round-the-world tickets during the past 12-month period compared with a year earlier. Conspicuous among them are recently retired baby boomers.

Typically, such people stop at 10 to 15 airports served by airlines in the same alliance.

A traveler purchasing multiple, full-fare business-class tickets in Tokyo for an itinerary including such destinations as New York and London would have to pay more than 1 million yen. But a single round-the-world business-class ticket costs roughly half that sum.

The corresponding prices for economy-class round-the-world tickets start somewhere between 300,000 yen and 400,000 yen.

“Some round-the-world tickets would qualify those purchasing them for free round-trip tickets between Japan and a Southeast Asian destination,” a branch official said.

For an alliance to succeed in trumping rivals hinges in part on whether it can entice promising airlines — including some fast-growing Chinese carriers — into the fold, industry officials said.

Incorporating these airlines might motivate a multinational corporation to conclude large-value contracts to purchase tickets from a single alliance for its employee business trips.

Their addition to an alliance could also spur round-the-world ticket sales, they said.

Narita International Airport has reallocated space at its terminal buildings over the past year along alliance lines, with the North Wing of Terminal 1 assigned to SkyTeam and its South Wing to Star Alliance, and Terminal 2 to oneworld.

As a result, layover time for a Star Alliance passenger switching planes was cut from a minimum of 110 minutes to 45 minutes.

Being part of Star Alliance “has enabled ANA officials to learn the highly efficient management techniques of U.S. and European airlines for a range of divisions,” a senior ANA official said.

JAL is now obliged to pay 500 million yen a year for membership in the oneworld alliance, a sum that an official at a rival alliance likened to a “tuition fee.”

“We will be looking to see how JAL utilizes the knowhow of its partners to restructure its business and effectively use its ‘tuition,’ ” the official said.

Aeroflot for Kansai

Aeroflot President Valery Okulov said Thursday that Russia’s leading airline will launch regular passenger flights linking Kansai airport and Moscow or St. Petersburg in the second half of fiscal 2008.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Okulov said Aeroflot, a member of the SkyTeam airline alliance, intends to expand operations in Japan.

He also unveiled a plan for Aeroflot to launch cargo flights between Niigata airport and Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East by acquiring an airline in the Russian region.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Aeroflot operates a combined 10 passenger and cargo flights a week between the two countries, mainly linking Moscow and Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture.

The airline has yet to decide how many flights it will operate on the Kansai route.

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