Qatar Airways plans to join the Oneworld alliance within the next 18 months, after being elected as a member designate by International Airlines Group (IAG).

The Doha-based airline will be the alliance's 14th member, including fellow member designates Malaysia Airlines and SriLankan Airlines, and second in the Middle East after Royal Jordanian.

Qatar chief executive Akbar Al Baker made the announcement with other Oneworld member airline chief executives in New York on 8 October.

"Alliances are playing an increasingly important role in the airline industry today--and that will continue long into the future," he says. "Qatar Airways has carefully reviewed its strategic options and it is very clear that joining Oneworld is by far the best way forward."

Al Baker says that the airline will expand and add destinations in cooperation with its new Oneworld partners. In the USA, he notes that the carrier will launch service to American's hub at Chicago O'Hare in April 2013 but declines to comment on whether it is planning service to American's hubs at either Dallas-Fort Worth or Miami.

"We carefully assessed all potential options in the region," says Bruce Ashby, chief executive of Oneworld, at the event. "This detailed analysis indicated clearly that Qatar Airways is the best overall fit for Oneworld and can deliver the biggest benefits to the alliance."

He says that Qatar will increase the alliance’s market share in terms of revenue passenger miles in the Middle East to 10% from 4%, between Asia and Africa to 15% from 5%, between Asia and South America to 10% from 5% and between Asia and Europe to 21% from 7%.

The airline brings 15 new destinations and three new countries to the Oneworld map.

Qatar's entrance into Oneworld could raise pressure on the Gulf's two other major unaligned carriers, Emirates and Etihad. Etihad has recently signed a codeshare deal with Air France and KLM, both SkyTeam members. Emirates has remained outspoken as an opponent of the three global airline alliances, but recently announced a wide-ranging partnership with Qantas Airways, a Oneworld member.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news