By Nobuhiro Kubo
TOKYO (Reuters) - Bankrupt Japan Airlines's <9205.T> new president said he would start from scratch in choosing an overseas partner, as American Airlines tries to fend off strong rival suitor Delta Air Lines <DAL.N>
The two U.S. carriers have been courting Japan Airlines with offers of financial aid and close cooperation on international routes, keen to gain access to its vast network in Asia and benefit from the expansion at Tokyo's Haneda airport.
American is currently partners with JAL in the Oneworld alliance. Delta wants it to defect to its rival SkyTeam group.
Some Japanese media have already declared Delta the winner, saying JAL will chose it because the airline has a much larger network than American, which would allow JAL more room to cut costs and would give it a bigger sales boost.
However, JAL's new president and chief operating officer, Masaru Onishi, said on Monday he would start with a blank slate in evaluating the offers from Delta and American.
"We are still neutral," Onishi told a news conference held to introduce the carrier's new management team. "We will consider from scratch under new management without being affected by the past discussions."
JAL filed for bankruptcy protection two weeks ago with about $25 billion in debts and will now embark on a sweeping restructuring with the help of the state-backed fund Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corp of Japan (ETIC).
The ETIC has estimated that an alliance with Delta could boost JAL's earnings by as much as 17.2 billion yen ($190 million) a year, triple the expected benefit of ties with American, according to a document obtained by Reuters.
That assumes both carriers could attain so-called anti-trust immunity for closer cooperation on scheduling, pricing and marketing under an "open skies" treaty between the United States and Japan.
American and its Oneworld partners have offered $1.4 billion in capital and Delta has offered about $1 billion in financial aid. However, the ETIC, is not expected to invite either carrier to invest.
"There are both good points and bad points (in the proposals from American and Delta). We will make a decision as soon as possible," said Onishi, the former head of a commuter airline unit of JAL.
Onishi, 54, started his career in JAL in 1978 doing plane maintenance and was part of the response team that consoled families following a 1985 crash that is still the world's biggest single aircraft disaster, claiming 520 lives.
Onishi will work to rebuild the former national flag carrier along with new chief executive officer Kazuo Inamori, the 77-year-old founder of electronics maker Kyocera Corp <6971.T> and an ordained Buddhist priest.
"From ancient times, the rise and fall of companies has depended on the nature of its leaders," Inamori said at the news conference. "I know I have a heavy responsibility and I want to convey what I have learned as a leader to each employee."
(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; editing by Michael Watson and Karen Foster)