Since Varig was forced to leave the Star Alliance late last year as the amazing shrinking Brazilian carrier just got too small and then got bought by Brazilian discounter Gol, the Star Alliance, the oldest and largest of the global groupings, has been looking for a way to keep its Latin American offering strong. After all, it just won't do to have a gap in the fast-growing market, especially when rival alliance oneworld remains strong with a membership roster that includes LAN. Now, Star may be moving strategically toward geographic satisfaction as two of its largest members, Lufthansa and United, each signs its own bilateral deal with Brazil's TAM.
This follows close on a deal between TAM and TAP, the Portuguese airline, which is a major carrier between the old country and Brazil. TAM is now Brazil's largest carrier, with an international market share of nearly 70% and a domestic market share of more than 50%, some of this on former Varig routes that TAM took over. And TAM may take over more Varig long-distance routes in June, when Brazilian regulators make decisions on who gets what. TAM officials have said that the carrier would sign bilateral deals but might hold off on joining an alliance, but with three major Star alliance deals and limited oneworld code shares (with American for some US/Brazil routes and with LAN on domestic routes only) and one with SkyTeam member Air France, the stars may be aligned for Star's southern drive.