Over A Dozen Airlines Under The Microscope
Are airlines collaborating to fix prices for running freight?
That's what US, European and Asian regulators want to know, and
they've started to probe more than a dozen airlines this week in
hopes of finding the answer.
Three more Asian airlines -- South Korea's Asiana, Japan's
Nippon Cargo Airlines and Singapore Airlines -- confirmed to the
Associated Press Thursday they were visited by the authorities.
Offices of JAL, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and Lufthansa were
also visited this week, and some where issued subpoenas.
But what, exactly, are the investigators looking into?
"We're not even sure what's prompting the regulators to get
upset," said Peter Hilton, regional transport analyst at Credit
Suisse in Hong Kong.
Representatives with the European Commission, the FBI and the US
Department of Justice refused to provide details about what
investigators are looking for... but one of the airlines under
investigation says it all has to do with a surcharge agreement
reached in 2000.
Denmark's SAS Cargo told the AP the European Union claims the
cooperation began when the airlines reached an unofficial agreement
over surcharges to impose on customers, to offset external costs to
Public response from
the affected airlines has been mixed. On Thursday, Singapore
Airlines issued a statement that its cargo division had "received
requests for information from the US and European authorities, and
has provided the information sought. SIA Cargo will cooperate fully
with the authorities."
An Asiana spokesman also confirmed its offices in Seoul were
visited, and documents were inspected by South Korean antitrust
authorities on Tuesday.
Nippon Cargo Airlines said officials from the US District Court
of the District of Columbia left papers at the company's office at
John F. Kennedy International Tuesday to appear at the court by
April, according to spokesman Yuhei Yamashita.
The papers did not say why they were being asked to appear in
court, he added.
Japan Airlines spokesman Yoshiteru Suzuki said the airline's
offices in Frankfurt and New York were searched Tuesday by EU
antitrust authorities, US Justice Department anti-monopoly
officials and the FBI.
Suzuki said the questions centered on cargo operations, with
apparent suspicions of a cartel.
Cargo operations represent a large source of revenue for
overseas carriers. For the fourth quarter of 2005, JAL's revenue
from international cargo totalled $451 million -- nearly 10 percent
of the carrier's overall revenue.