Aerolineas Argentinas became the first South American carrier to join the SkyTeam alliance in a signing ceremony held in a hanger at Buenos Aires's Jorge Newbery airport on Wednesday, 29 August 2012.

The achievement is symbolic of the state-owned airline's reorganisation and emergence from a decade-long bankruptcy last year, Aerolineas president Mariano Recalde said in a speech during the ceremony.

"The investments we have made in the name of Argentina and to join SkyTeam are large," said Recalde.

As part of its reorganisation, the airline has shed unprofitable routes, modernised its fleet and addressed a number of operational and service issues.

More than a thousand Aerolineas employees as well as executives from Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta Air Lines, KLM, Korean Air, Saudia and Tarom were present at the ceremony.

"We are working to expand our global reach and fill the gaps in our network," SkyTeam's managing director, Michael Wisbrun, said during the ceremony. "Today we've taken a major step in that direction."

He adds that Aerolineas' membership in SkyTeam is "proof" of its commitment to South America. The airline is the alliance's 18th member and its first in South America.

Aerolineas unveiled a Boeing 737-700 painted in the silver SkyTeam livery at the end of the ceremony.

SkyTeam's presence in South America is weak compared with the Oneworld and Star alliances, even with the membership of Aerolineas. The flag carrier is one of the continent's smaller major airlines as a result of its bankruptcy and reorganisation, and does not have services to destinations where many of its competitors operate.

The Oneworld alliance includes Chile's LAN, which has local operations in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Brazil's TAM, which merged with LAN in June, may join the alliance within the next two years. A decision is expected by the end of this year.

Star includes Colombia's Avianca, which has operations in Brazil and Ecuador, and for the time being, TAM. The alliance also includes Panama's Copa Airlines, which has operations in Colombia, and El Salvador's Taca, which has operations in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru.

Wisbrun says he "encourages" Aerolineas to grow in Argentina and South America, in order to help close that gap between SkyTeam's network and the other alliances.

Aerolineas first signed an agreement to become a member of the alliance in November 2010.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news