Japan govt team to study JAL rehabilitation plan

Japan govt team to study JAL rehabilitation plan

Tokyo: Japan’s government on Friday launched a task force to study struggling Japan Airlines’ rehabilitation plan, looking to map out a strategy within about a month, the transport ministry said.

Seiji Maehara, the transport minister, appointed five experts on industrial revitalisation to form the task force a day after Asia’s largest carrier sought a public bailout to survive after being hit by the economic downturn.

“I would like you to play the central role in mapping out JAL’s revival plan," Maehara told the experts at their first meeting, adding that this would help Japan’s tourism sector and the country’s prosperity.

The task force was launched after Japan’s new centre-left government promised to overhaul the JAL restructuring process set in motion under the previous conservative government which was defeated in an election last month.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama — in the United States for UN and Group of 20 summits this week — has instructed Maehara by phone to “swiftly address this issue," said top government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano.

Asked whether the government may allow the carrier to collapse, Hirano stressed the government’s stance that “We don’t think that is an option."

Among the panel members is Shinjiro Takagi, former chairman of the now-defunct Industrial Revitalization Corp. of Japan, which assisted a number of heavily indebted firms from 2003 to 2007.

JAL, which lost more than one billion dollars in the April-June quarter, has announced plans to slash 6,800 jobs and pursue a tie-up with a foreign carrier as part of efforts to return to profit.

The task force is expected to study the reconstruction measures submitted by JAL while making an assessment of the carrier’s assets.

Airline president Haruka Nishimatsu met Maehara Thursday and sought a public bailout, but the government gave a cool response to the request, with the minister saying the business revival plan was “insufficient."

The carrier has already received three government bailouts since 2001.

JAL has forecast a net loss of 63 billion yen ($690 million) in the year to March 2010, after a 63.2-billion-yen deficit last year.

Nishimatsu said last week that JAL aimed to seal a tie-up with an overseas carrier by mid-October, without naming any potential partners.

According to local media, Delta Air Lines is considering taking a stake in JAL. American Airlines, British Airways and Qantas are also reported to have made a joint offer, while Air France-KLM is seen as another possible partner.