Avianca is preparing to replace Delta Air Lines with United Airlines as its US codeshare partner as the Colombian carrier prepares to enter Star Alliance in 2012.

Avianca-TACA chief executive Fabio Villegas says Avianca has begun discussing with SkyTeam member Delta a timeframe for terminating its long-time partnership, which began back in 2003 when Avianca was part of Summa. He says Delta is aware of Star's acceptance of Avianca, which was announced earlier this week and is contingent on Avianca terminating its bilateral relationship with Delta.

"We are discussing that. We have some contractual obligations with Delta," Villegas told ATI and Flightglobal at a Star Alliance event in Miami earlier this week in which Avianca-TACA was announced as a new member.

"We'll see if we can develop codeshares with other airlines in Star, in particular United/Continental. Our relationship with Delta has been a very good one, a productive one and we appreciate very much what has been done in the past independently of the decision we took to join Star Alliance."

Villegas says during its application process with Star, Avianca-TACA already began discussing with United a potential codeshare on the Avianca side. TACA already codeshares with United, which earlier this year completed its merger with Continental, and Villegas says it is now just an issue of expanding that relationship to include Avianca-operated flights.

He says while it will take 18 months for Avianca-TACA to formally join Star in the interim period new bilateral partnerships with Star members such as United can be forged and implemented. In addition to its existing codeshare with United, TACA also already codeshares with Star members US Airways and Lufthansa. Earlier this month Avianca forged its own codeshare deal with Lufthansa, which becomes the first Star member codeshare partner on the Avianca code.

Avianca and TACA currently have separate codes and as a result each carrier is now required to forge their own bilaterals. But Villegas says as part of ongoing integration efforts, Avianca-TACA plan to eventually move to one code across all its airline subsidiaries. As a result all codeshares that are currently in place with only one of the carriers will be extended to flights operated by the other.

"We are moving to single codeshares and we are moving to single code in Avianca-TACA itself. I hope it won't take too long. There are some technical issues there but it's more a regulatory situation," Villegas says.

He adds regulatory issues will continue to prevent Avianca-TACA from going to a single air operators certificate (AOC) even as it moves to a single code and a single brand. The group expects to retain four to five AOCs.

Avianca also has a codeshare with Oneworld member Iberia but Villegas says this will be maintained as Star has granted Avianca-TACA an exemption from its normal policy blocking its members from codesharing with members from other alliances. Typically exemptions are provided when there are no Star alternatives. While Spanair is a Star member Spanair does not have a long-haul operation and there is no Star carrier operating in the key Spain-Colombia market.

Copa chief executive Pedro Heilbron says Copa also has received a similar exemption from Star to continue its codeshare with KLM. Currently no European Star member serves Panama.

Avianca-TACA officials say the airline group is also considering forging a codeshare with SkyTeam member Aeromexico to replace Avianca's previous codeshare with Oneworld member Mexicana, which ceased operations in August. Avianca would need to secure an exemption from Star to codeshare with Aeromexico but such an exemption is feasible because Star currently does not have a Mexican member.

Aeromexico CEO Andres Conesa told ATI in June that he expected to sign a codeshare with Avianca-TACA. But at the time Aeromexico was leading a SkyTeam initiative to woo Avianca-TACA as a new member. Avianca-TACA subsequently decided to pursue membership in Star instead of SkyTeam.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news