Ethiopian Airlines eyes Star Alliance

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Ethiopian Airlines could become the Star Alliance's second African member, following its recent codeshare agreement with Lufthansa.

Ethiopian Airlines chief executive Girma Wake says a new codeshare with Lufthansa, signed in June, brings it "a step nearer" to joining Star. But he adds: "We have yet to start the process" of applying for membership.

"It's not something we've decided but we are considering," he says. "We would like to do that [join Star]. We would like to do it in steps."

Ethiopian already codeshares with Star member South African Airways and Wake says it also has "strong interline agreements" with Star members Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways International. These partnerships make Star the logical choice, however Wake says Ethiopian will also consider joining oneworld, but not SkyTeam. "Most likely it will be Star," he adds.

Ethiopian has been talking with Lufthansa for over a year. It took a long time to complete the deal because Ethiopian had to meet several requirements, including passing the IATA operational safety audit. The two carriers will codeshare on the Addis Ababa-Frankfurt route, where Lufthansa now operates four weekly flights and Ethiopian three.

One week after signing the Lufthansa deal, Ethiopian added a codeshare pact with Gulf Air covering its new Addis Ababa-Bahrain route. Ethiopian launched services in June to Bahrain and Yemen, giving it 48 destinations worldwide, including five in the Middle East.

The fast-growing carrier is planning to expand its long-haul network over the next few years as it takes delivery of 10 Boeing 787s. It now only has eight widebody passenger aircraft - Boeing 767s, which it uses to serve seven destinations in Europe, six in Asia and one in North America.

Ethiopian will be the second carrier to operate the 787, after Japan's All Nippon Airways. It has 10 787s on order with deliveries spread from September 2008 until May 2011. The airline is now considering exercising options for a further five of the type.