Japan Airlines is poised to strike a tie-up with Delta Airlines within just days, which would save the company from bankruptcy and change the shape of global airline alliances.
According to reports emerging in the Japanese media, JAL has already made the decision to strike a partnership with Delta, despite a competing offer from its oneworld alliance partner American Airlines.
Speculation was fuelled over the weekend by an interview with Haruka Nishimatsu, JAL’s chief executive, in which he said that Delta had more Asian-focused partners in its alliance and that Asia represented some of JAL’s best prospects for growth.
The airline is expected to make a decision by 16 January as it grapples desperately to head off bankruptcy. The company made a loss of Y63 billion (£420 million) in the last financial year and owes its biggest creditors more than Y500 billion.
Delta has offered $1.02 billion for JAL, which is Asia’s largest airline. The move would be a major scalp for the U.S. airline and hugely strengthen the Skyteam alliance.
AA has raised $1.1 billion in funding through TPG, the private equity firm. A spokesperson for the airline said it was still talking to JAL and that it had heard nothing to suggest JAL had already made its decision.
BA has also put pressure on JAL to stay in the oneworld alliance, and its finance director flew to Tokyo at the end of last year to lend the airline’s support to the AA deal.
According to the Times, certain factions within the Japanese Government are understood to favour the Delta deal, viewing it as a “white knight” option. One source who said that the negotiations have now intensified, with both sides possibly preparing to raise the size of their funding offers.
JAL shares soared 31 per cent yesterday as a market reaction to the weekend announcement of a new Y200 billion credit line from the Development Bank of Japan.
However, analysts said that JAL’s troubles are far from over. Even with the extra credit line and the prospect of financial support from either Delta or American, it faces what is likely to be a very painful restructuring. One plan would include JAL cutting 9,000 jobs and 45 global and domestic routes.