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Oneworld touts sum benefits on possible Qatar departure

Oneworld chief executive Rob Gurney touts the sum benefit of the alliance over individual member airline spats when faced with questions over the possible departure of Qatar Airways.

"The reality of global alliances is there's not always going to be 100% alignment of strategic interests among the member partners," he said at the announcement of Royal Air Maroc's membership in New York on 5 December. "However, no single airline can offer the customer a completely holistic proposition in terms of network."

Interline partnerships among Oneworld members generate roughly $5 billion in incremental revenue annually, says Gurney putting a number to those network benefits.

Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, first threatened to pull the airline from Oneworld in October, calling various other member airlines' competitive moves against the Doha-based carrier "shenanigans".

“The whole idea behind an alliance is to work together to support each other like a family," he said at the time. "But I don’t think that is any more the spirit of the alliance."

American Airlines was outspoken against alleged state-subsidies Qatar received that allowed it to essentially dump capacity in the US market, while Al Baker claims Qantas Airways has used its own partnership with Emirates to block Qatar from expanding to Australia.

Qatar is the only Gulf carrier in one of the major alliances, with Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways unaligned.

Gurney espouses a different view of Oneworld, where the overall benefits outweigh competition on the individual airline level.

"Most of us compete with each other in the marketplace," he says.

Competition and spats among alliance partners are not isolated to Oneworld or Qatar. Delta Air Lines challenged US Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) loan guarantees to Korean Air, a fellow SkyTeam Alliance partner, in US courts in 2013. Since then, however, the SkyTeam carriers have forged closer ties and entered an immunised joint venture in May.

On a less divisive level, alliance partners that operate outside of an immunised pact compete on routes where they overlap. For example, Star Alliance members Air China and United Airlines compete on routes between Beijing and Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles.

Gurney, for his part, is sanguine about the possible exit of Qatar from Oneworld.

"Ultimately each member airline needs to make their own commercial business decisions based on their own needs and priorities, and we respect that," he says."

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