Members of the Oneworld alliance predict a significant battle will ensue during the next two-to-three months among the three large global alliances to secure membership from the merged LAN and TAM airlines.
Oneworld managing director John McCulloch made that declaration today during the annual International Aviation Forecast summit hosted by the Boyd Group International.
McCulloch states he feels pretty certain that despite "rhetoric out there", that the carrier will only select a single alliance partner.
LAN and TAM unveiled their plans to merge in August of this year, and have previously said they wouldn't settle on an alliance decision until 2012, but McCulloch tells ATI "they seem well ahead of the timetable" in their integration, and from Oneworld's perspective, it is important now for the group to begin making its case to the carriers.
TAM joined Star in May of this year while LAN is a long-standing member of Oneworld, joining the alliance in 2000.
McCulloch says Oneworld will try to persuade LAN-TAM that choosing the grouping will give the combined Latin American carrier a key footprint in Europe and the USA, which are "crucial for LAN-TAM's future profitability".
He also believes Oneworld has insight into other areas where the combined carrier would like to grow, citing the UK and Spain as examples. "We can play to those strengths," he says.
In parallel to the battle for LAN-TAM's alliance allegiance, Oneworld continues to pursue opportunities in Brazil, Canada and China. The alliance lost a key contest earlier this year when China Eastern opted to join the SkyTeam grouping. McCulloch believes that Oneworld had the better value proposition for China Eastern, but certain "leadership ambitions within the airline" led to the carrier's selection of SkyTeam.
While Canada's second largest carrier WestJet has repeatedly stated its desire not to formally join one of the three major alliance groupings and instead focus on building as many bilateral relationships as possible, McCulloch states that there are six-to-eight Oneworld members that could forge important bilateral relationships with WestJet.
American and WestJet on 19 October announced an interline agreement whose first phase will cover 25 of WestJet's Canadian destinations not currently served by American.
Oneworld is also celebrating the recent launch of the transatlantic joint venture of American, British Airways and Iberia. As the new venture gets off the ground McCulloch says Oneworld is ramping up its corporate selling push, something he admits Star partners United, Air Canada and Lufthansa have historically performed better at than Oneworld.