After 12 years of haggling with American aviation officials, Japan Airlines Co. is once again asking for permission to truck cargo inland from its U.S. gateway airports.
The renewed effort by JAL, which filed a request with the Department of Transportation last month, reflects the growing importance of freight business to passenger airlines.
With most flight costs linked to passenger traffic, cargoes tucked into the underbellies of airliners represent a steady profit stream.
"Cargo is starting to be recognized as a profit center," said Frank Black, director of cargo services at the Washington-based Air Transport Assn.
Domestic and international freight carried by U.S. airlines last year amounted to a record 10.98 billion revenue ton miles, up from 10.54 billion revenue ton miles in 1990. (A revenue ton mile is a ton of revenue-producing cargo transported over a mile.)
Both JAL and Nippon Cargo Airlines Co., which is also seeking U.S. trucking rights, said the long delay in getting the oft-requested authority has made it difficult for them to compete with U.S. carriers for American cargo destined for Japan, and for Japanese goods addressed to inland parts of the United States.
JAL at first requested the trucking authority in 1981.
In 1988, U.S. officials said that before Japanese companies could ship inland here, Japan would have to authorize similar trucking rights for U.S. companies in Japan.
Japanese officials then allowed Federal Express Corp. to do some trucking.
Federal Express said it wouldn't object to U.S. trucking rights for JAL and Nippon as long as both would be subject to the same restrictions it faces in Japan.