United Airlines, Continental, and All Nippon Airways applied for antitrust approval on Wednesday so they can work together more closely on flights across the Pacific.
The three carriers already sell tickets on each other's planes as partners in the Star Alliance, which Continental joined in October. But they want to form a joint venture that would strengthen their financial ties.
Antitrust laws usually keep businesses from coordinating prices and schedules. But the government can grant immunity from those laws in certain cases, if it decides that consumers would benefit more from businesses working together.
The airlines said that if their immunity application is approved, they will jointly manage trans-Pacific activities including schedules, prices, and sales.
The carriers said the proposed joint venture would be the first of its kind between the U.S. and Asia, and that it would help them compete with other big airlines that have a presence in Tokyo.
United competes head-to-head on Asia flights with Northwest Airlines, which is now a part of Delta Air Lines Inc.
Continental won immunity in July to work with United Airlines, despite objections by the Justice Department. However, the Transportation Department ruled in that case that the immunity would not apply to several international routes where Continental overlaps with its new partners, including flights between the U.S. and Beijing.
United, which is based in Chicago, and Continental, in Houston, are still not allowed to work together on prices or schedules within the U.S.
Shares of United parent UAL Corp. rose 16 cents to close at $13.09 on Wednesday. Continental Airlines Inc. was up a penny to close at $18.56.