Oneworld says it is not in any “active discussions” with China Southern Airlines about joining the alliance, and that it feels “no pressure” to add a mainland Chinese carrier into the grouping.
Speaking at the Aviation Festival Asia conference in Singapore, the alliance's chief executive Rob Gurney says that it has always been “very flexible” in allowing members to partner with airlines outside the grouping.
“We recognise that we’re the smallest alliance and we recognised a long time ago that to try and force all members to work exclusively with other Oneworld members is just impractical.”
He made the comment in response to a question about some of its members collaborating with China Southern, which dropped out of SkyTeam at the beginning of the year.
Gurney adds that its members are already partners with the three big mainland Chinese carriers, which he sees as “quite a good model”.
“So we don’t feel that there’s any pressure to have a mainland Chinese carrier come into Oneworld. There’s no active discussions [with China Southern], we have a great member in Cathay, and I’m sure that many of the Oneworld carriers will build out their bilateral partnerships with some others as things progress.”
On Oneworld members American Airlines and Qatar taking stakes in China Southern, Gurney says that those investments are “quite small” and that there could be a range of reasons behind them, including simply to take equity positions in the Chinese market.
He adds that while equity relationships could help build into deeper relationships, they “shouldn’t be construed as a catalyst” for China Southern joining Oneworld.
In January, Qatar announced that it will take a 5% stake in China Southern as part of its strategy “to invest in the strongest airlines around the world” and to enhance operations and connectivity. It could also further increase its stake over the next 12 months.
American meanwhile bought a 2.68% stake in China Southern in 2017, and the duo are drawing closer through codeshares.
Industry observers have said that having China Southern under its banner would be seen as a major win for Oneworld since it is the only alliance without a mainland Chinese member. This would however likely face opposition from the grouping’s founding member Cathay, since China Southern’s main hub in Guangzhou is less than an hour’s high-speed rail ride from Hong Kong.