Latin American airline groups Avianca-TACA and Copa expect to formally join the Star Alliance in the second quarter of 2012, giving the alliance 31 members including three in Latin America.

Star announced earlier today applications from the two groups have been accepted by the alliance's chief executive board. Star Alliance CEO Jaan Albrecht told reporters the implementation process now begins. "Today we are kicking off the integration period," Albrecht says. "It will take 12 to 18 months to be completed".

Copa CEO Pedro Heilbron explained that Copa and Avianca-TACA "both have an 18 month period to join. Neither one will join before the 18 months are up."

Heilbron told reporters Copa is confident it can complete the implementation process in 18 months as it has the same IT systems as Continental Airlines, which in October 2009 completed the process of joining Star. Heilbron says "I think it may be a slightly easier process" for Copa because Avianca-TACA will have to implement more technology changes.

Avianca-TACA CEO Fabio Villegas acknowledged that "it is a little more difficult for Avianca-TACA" from a technology implementation standpoint. But he told reporters the carrier is "committed to fulfilling" all the requirements within the 18-month window.

Villegas added that Avianca-TACA is now working on implementing new reservation and inventory systems from Amadeus that will help the group be ready for Star in early 2012. "We are looking forward to being a full member of Star Alliance as soon as we can," he says.

Speaking to ATI and Flightglobal after the press conference, Villegas says Avianca before the merger already completed a switch-over to Amadeus and the TACA side is now switching over to the Amadeus platform. He says Avianca and TACA are also both now in the process of implementing a new revenue management system from PROS.

Lufthansa has been appointed as Avianca-TACA advisor during the implementation process while Copa will be advised by its long-term partner Continental Airlines.

Albrecht says adding both Avianca-TACA and Star "really reinforces Star Alliance's position in what has really been a white spot in our strategy - to cover the north part of South America and the Caribbean." Brazil's TAM, which formally joined Star earlier this year, currently covers the southern part of the South American continent.

Albrecht says Avianca-TACA and Copa will give Star 47 new destinations which are not currently part of the alliance's combined network. He says once the two new members formally join, Star will operate 22,518 daily flights to 1,292 destinations in 188 countries.

Star currently has 27 members and expects to end 2011 with 29 members as both Air India and Ethiopian Airlines are on pace to complete the integration process next year.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news