SkyTeam aims to recruit more Asian members

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SkyTeam is confident it will be able to further expand its growing presence in Asia by soon securing commitments from new Asian members.

SkyTeam chairman Leo van Wijk says the Asia-Pacific region, in particular Southeast Asia and India, remains a priority in the alliance's drive to recruit new members.

Vietnam Airlines earlier this month formally joined SkyTeam as the alliance's third Asian member alongside China Southern Airlines and Korean Air. van Wijk says China Eastern, which earlier this year announced its selection of SkyTeam over rival Oneworld, formally signed an agreement to join SkyTeam earlier this week during an alliance meeting in New York.

"We still intend to add more Asian carriers to the group and thereby firmly position SkyTeam as the alliance for Asia," van Wikj said at a press conference yesterday at the conclusion of the meeting.

van Wijk says SkyTeam is not looking to further grow its presence in China because after China Eastern joins the alliance next year SkyTeam will have two of the country's three leading carriers. "We're looking for new members to add something to the alliance rather than overwhelm," he says.

He adds the alliance is currently talking to "several" airlines from Asia as well as Latin America, another priority in SkyTeam's ongoing recruitment drive.

"There are specific regions where we want to strengthen our network even further to better meet demand of our customers. These are Latin America, India, Southeast Asia, and the larger Asia-Pacific. We are activity looking to fill these gaps," van Wijk says.

But he declined to identify the carriers SkyTeam is currently courting.

In India, Jet Airways it the most likely member as the country's other two leading carriers, Air India and Kingfisher Airlines, have already committed to joining Star and Oneworld, respectively.

In Southeast Asia, Malaysia Airlines has long been seen as a potential SkyTeam member as the region's other two major carriers, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways, are both in Star.

SkyTeam tried to woo Japan Airlines late last year and early this year until the carrier decided in February to stay in Oneworld. With Japan's only other major carrier, All Nippon Airways, firmly in Star, SkyTeam is now focusing more on Southeast rather than Northeast Asia.