American Airlines and JAL, Japan's biggest airline which is now in a government-structured bankruptcy restructuring, said they had asked the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for antitrust immunity so they could "forge a closer relationship."
The immunity from competition restrictions would allow them to implement a joint business agreement (JBA) governing the operation of their flights between North America and Asia, they said.
"An immunized JBA will benefit the public, offer new competition in the fast-growing Asian aviation marketplace and strengthen the relationship between American and Japan Airlines, which will support JAL's successful restructuring," said Gerard Arpey, American's chairman and chief executive.
The two airlines, members of the oneworld alliance, also said they would notify Japan's transport ministry of the request.
JAL, the iconic Japanese carrier, ended speculation Tuesday about whether it would stay with American and its 10 partners in the oneworld alliance or defect to US rival Delta Air Lines, the world's largest carrier, and its fellow members in the SkyTeam alliance.
Both American and Delta had been competing to partner with ailing JAL, hoping to benefit from the new US-Japan "open skies" deal to expand their reach in the lucrative Asia-Pacific aviation market.
Arpey said antitrust immunity would "improve customer choice by giving the oneworld alliance, of which American and JAL are key members, strong hub operations at Tokyo, thus allowing more vibrant competition with other global alliances in northeast Asia and beyond."
American and JAL recalled that antitrust immunity was made possible by the Open Skies accord reached by the United States and Japan in December 2009.
JAL, after receiving a series of government bailouts in recent years, last month filed for bankruptcy with $26 billion in debt in one of the biggest corporate failures in Japan's history.
The government announced a $3.3 billion injection of public funds and fresh emergency loans of $6.6 billion for Asia's biggest airline.
Now in state-supervised restructuring, JAL plans to slash unprofitable routes and axe more than 15,000 jobs, about a third of its workforce, and sell some assets in order to return to financial health.
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