With both Qatar and Etihad linked to entering one of the three global airline alliances and Emirates connected to the creation of a fourth alliance, the chief executives of Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam say that one or more could join.
Speaking at the Airline Business Alliances, Joint Ventures and Partnerships conference in Istanbul, Bruce Ashby, chief executive of Oneworld which is heavily linked to Qatar Airways, alluded that if a Gulf carrier is to join any alliance, his is a likely candidate. “We don’t say we don’t like you, we won’t work with you,” he says, adding that discussions over their potential entry are “a natural outcome out of the growth and size of these airlines”.
Star Alliance’s Mark Schwab questions the benefit of one of the big three Middle Eastern carriers joining an alliance, saying ”for the time being we don’t see strong home markets being delivered to us and we don’t see many new cities being added to the network.” While he says he’s “learnt to never say never” and concedes that the geography of the Middle East makes the three airlines interesting, he adds: “You don’t necessarily have to have a relationship with one of those carriers to be relevant in that marketplace.”
However Michael Wisbrun, chief executive of SkyTeam, was more guarded over whether his alliance could or will welcome a Middle Eastern carrier into its fold. “It’s impressive how the Gulf carriers established themselves and the progress they are making. It means they are in play and will continue to be a strong force in terms of global network building,” he says.