Star acceptance of Avianca-TACA excludes Avianca Brazil for now

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Avianca Brazil, previously known as OceanAir, has not yet been accepted to join the Star Alliance along with its sister carriers at Avianca-TACA, but expects to be approved for membership at a later date.

Star announced earlier today that Avianca-TACA and Panama's Copa have been accepted as new members. Avianca-TACA and Star executives explain that all passenger carriers in both groups have been accepted as Star members with the single exception of Avianca Brazil because it is not currently owned by Avianca-TACA's new holding company.

Avianca Brazil's CEO, Jose Efromovich, says this ownership issue "is just a formality" and once it is resolved Avianca Brazil will also apply to become part of Star. He explains that currently Avianca Brazil is fully owned by Synergy Aerospace, the holding company controlled by the Efromovich family. But he says the intention is ownership in Avianca Brazil will be transferred in 2011 to the new holding company created from the merger of Avianca and TACA, which was completed in February.

"Avianca Brazil will be integrated [into Avianca-TACA] definitely next year," Efromovich told ATI and Flightglobal at a Star Alliance event today in Miami.

Efromovich says he hopes Avianca Brazil can still become part of Star when the rest of the group formally joins, which is expected in early 2012. If not, Avianca Brazil will join shortly after its sister carriers.

Star Alliance CEO Jaan Albrecht told ATI and Flightglobal that Star expects Avianca Brazil "will be phased in later". He says TAM, which formally joined Star earlier this year, fully supports the addition of Avianca Brazil as a second Brazilian carrier in the alliance. "It's all part of the negotiations," Albrecht says.

Efromovich also says TAM has been supportive and the two carriers look forward to working together. Avianca Brazil is the fifth largest domestic carrier in Brazil while TAM is Brazil's largest.

Ownership in Avianca and Colombian cargo carrier Tampa has already been transferred from Synergy to the new Avianca-TACA holding company. All the subsidiaries and partners under the former Grupo TACA, previously controlled by Roberto Kriete's family, have also transferred. These include El Salvador's TACA, Costa Rica's Lacsa and Sansa, Guatemala's Aviateca, Honduras' Islena, Nicaragua's Costena, Panama's Aeroperlas and TACA Peru.

Efromovich says currently Avianca-TACA is now focused on moving over Ecuador's AeroGal to the new holding company. Avianca-TACA executives say the group has exercised its option to acquire 100% of AeroGal, which was previously owned by Synergy along with a local Ecuadorean owner. This transaction is expected to close by year-end and AeroGal has already been accepted by Star.

Avianca CEO Fabio Villegas says Avianca-TACA holds a similar option to acquire Avianca TACA from Synergy.

While Avianca-TACA expects to continue using several operating certificates, it aims to go to one common brand and one code by 2012. As a result from a passenger perspective, Avianca-TACA will be one carrier when it formally joins Star in early 2012.

Avianca-TACA, after unveiling its merger last year, initially said it would keep two brands. But Villegas says the group has since decided that having only one brand would be better and it now needs to decide whether Avianca or TACA will be the surviving brand.