Continental Airlines and Air Micronesia asked the U.S. government yesterday to force Japan to honor terms of an 11-year-old bilateral air services agreement the two airlines says is being violated.
In the first petition filed with the Civil Aeronautics Board under provisions of the International Air Transportation Competition Act of 1979, Continental and its affiliate, Air Micronesia, accused the Japanese Civil Aeronautics Board and Japan Airlines of "unreasonable, unjust and discriminatory" practices in prohibiting Air Micronesia from increasing its Saipan-Tokyo service and extending its services to a second Japanese city as authorized under the 1969 bilateral pact.
The Competition Act passed last year specifically authorizes the United States to restrict the operations of a foreign flag airline if it or its government has imposed unjustifiable, unreasonable or discriminatory restraints on access by a U.S. carrier to foreign markets of that nation.
If the information in the petition is accurate, it will present the U.S. government with an important test of recent rhetoric. American carriers often complain of discriminatory treatment in foreign countries, and U.s.Y officials often respond with pledges to take corrective action when the facts warrant it.
Three months ago, Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt pledge in a speech to the International Aviation Club to take an aggressive stance in eliminating unfair competitive practices against U.S. carriers.He described the new law as a tool the CAB can use quickly against a foreign airline, with the president's approval, if it is determined that a U.S. airline is the victim of discrimination. "The department will not hestitate to ask the board to use these new powers when necessary," he said.
In their complaint to the CAB, Continental and Air Micronesia suggested that an appropriate initial sanction would be the suspension of Japan Airlines' service between Tokyo and New York via Anchorage. That authority was part of the exchange of routes which resulted in the authority granted to Air Micronesia to extend its service to Japan under the terms of the 1969 bilateral, they said.
"A failure of the United States to invoke the provisions of the new act to rectify the situation in this case would render these provisions a nullity and would be in defiance of clear congressional intent," the petition contended.
Continental owns 30 percent of Air Micronesia. Aloha Airlines owns another 10 percent, and the United Micronesia Development Association holds 60 percent; Continental also owns 32 percent of the stock of the UMDA.
In the Petition to the CAB, Continental noted that besides granting JAL rights to serve New York via Anchorage and Guam via Saipan, the 1969 bilateral granted Continental/Air Micronesia rights to serve Tokyo and Osaka from Micronesia via Saipan. The petition contends that although JAL is fully utilizing the rights of its obtained under the agreement, Continental/Air Micronesia has been allowed only limited frequency to operate between Saipan and Tokyo and has been prohibited altogether from exercising its authorized rights to serve Osaka or a reasonable alternate second city.
Continental/Air Micronesia applied to Japan's civil aviation authorities three times since 1978 for added service to Tokyo and access to a second city in Japan, the petition states. While those requests were turned down, the Japanese officials granted a request from JAL giving it 50 percent more capacity than Continental/Air Micronesia had in the Tokyo-Saipan market. JAL already had almost 300 percent more capacity than U.s.Y airlines in the Japan-Guam market.
"We take this action with great reluctance," A.L. Feldman, Continental's president and chief executive officer, said yesterday. "We have patiently pursued every diplomatic, legal and administrative avenue possible to secure for Air Micronesia its 11-year-old right for additional service to Japan. Seeking immediate relief under the International Air Transportation Competition Act is the only alternative left."
Yesterday, Boyd Hight, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs, said he wouldn't have a reaction to the Continental petition until he had read it, but noted that the United States was seeking to resume conversations with the Japanese on aviation matters in the near future. One issue to be discussed would be the Micronesia question, he noted. "We would like to see some means established for Continental to increase its frequencie," he said.