Moves towards greater co-operation welcomed by IATA as carriers strive to form tighter relationships

Attempts are again under way to form an alliance of Middle Eastern carriers, with up to seven of the region's airlines seeking to explore potential cost-efficiencies and co-operative benefits.

Five carriers - Gulf Air, Egyptair, Middle East Airlines, Royal Jordanian Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines - have been identified as initial participants in the so-called virtual alliance.

Speaking at last week's Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO) conference in Jordan, AACO secretary general Abdul Wahab Teffaha said that another "one or two" airlines could become part of the founding group. The International Air Transport Association has welcomed the moves towards greater co-operation, having highlighted the lack of alliance tie-ups in the Middle East at 2003's AACO event.

The effort will comprise a three-phase plan. The first phase will focus on each of the airlines' individual networks to examine possible optimisation of their structures. Once this has been achieved, the second phase will concentrate on optimising the combined networks of these carriers, to see whether they could take advantage of synergies. The third phase would see this core nucleus of the "virtual" alliance opened to expansion by adding other AACO member airlines.

Gulf Air chief executive James Hogan told Flight International that the move could tighten relationships between Arab carriers and that the network study could generate benefits: "Why should we all operate on top of each other?"

The participating carriers concede that the alliance model is experimental - not least because, unlike the present global groups such as Star Alliance and SkyTeam, the co-operating Arab carriers will have their bases in the same region.

The alliance may therefore result in different airlines specialising in operations and marketing of flights to particular parts of the world.



Source: Flight International