China Eastern Airlines has chosen SkyTeam as its alliance partner, and plans to formally join the group by mid-2011.
The decision will come as a disappointment to Star Alliance and especially Oneworld, which had wooed the Shanghai-based carrier as well. Air China, the country's flag carrier, is part of Star Alliance. The decision leaves Oneworld without a partner in one of the world's fastest growing airline markets.
When formalised, China Eastern will be the second Chinese carrier in the alliance after Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines. It is uncertain if Star Alliance member Shanghai Airlines, which China Eastern bought this year, will also join SkyTeam as well.
China Eastern and SkyTeam are expected to sign an alliance agreement in June, leading to official membership entry around mid-2011, says SkyTeam.
"Joining an international airline alliance is China Eastern Airlines' strategic deployment to continuously strengthen core profitability and boost market competitiveness," says the carrier's chairman Liu Shaoyong.
"Joining SkyTeam is the just way leading to a globalised market, which will provide wider space for growth. It offers rare opportunities to absorb successful experiences and realise great-leap-forward developments. It provides ideal chances to raise management levels, improve operation quality and accelerate the application of information technology."
Adding China Eastern gives SkyTeam customers access to the entire Chinese market, says the alliance.
"China Southern already covers China through its hubs in Guangzhou and Beijing. Together with China Eastern and its hub in Shanghai, SkyTeam will be able to offer services out of the three major Chinese markets," it adds
China Eastern's cooperation with Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico would give the alliance greater access in the trans-Pacific and Latin American markets, says SkyTeam. Growth to and from Europe will be come through cooperation with Aeroflot, Air France-KLM, Alitalia, and CSA Czech Airlines.
SkyTeam will add Vietnam Airlines and TAROM of Romania as members in June.