Jens Flottau/TOKYO

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is to join the Star Alliance by the start of the second quarter of next year after an on-off saga in which the Asian giant seemed to distance itself from the group after clashing with Star member Air New Zealand over ownership of Ansett Australia.

With Austrian Airlines and Mexicana also joining next year, Star says SIA's admission in March or April will take alliance membership to 12 carriers - not including smaller "Starlets" - a figure exceeding the group's original stated ceiling of 10 members.

Lufthansa chief executive Jürgen Weber says there is no longer a limit on the number of members, as long as the group remains manageable.

Weber, speaking at a biannual Star meeting in Tokyo where All Nippon Airways (ANA) was admitted to the alliance, said the delay in securing SIA membership was also linked to issues such as its financial ties to Swissair and Delta Air Lines. SIA chief executive Cheong Choong Kong admits the earlier alliance "did not quite work out".

SIA's membership may compromise Thai Airways International's position in Star, although Thai president Thamnoon Wanglee says the pair will "continue to compete". He points out that Lufthansa and SAS have managed to operate two close hubs without difficulty. Star says members still hope to take a stake in Thai when it is privatised, although the process has been delayed until next year.

Weber reveals Star is seeking one more recruit in the region, and that it would like it to be Chinese - although he cautions that this may have to wait because China's carriers are not yet ready for such a move.

He adds that Star has not given up on recruiting British Midland, although the UK carrier is believed to be leaning towards Air France/Delta in its choice of alliance. A BM decision is expected before the end of this month, with a non-Star deal likely to see SAS reduce - or shed - its 40% holding in the airline.

Lufthansa says its new ally, Spanair, will become a regional partner in the network. If it can secure an Eastern European partner, then the network will have "reached its strategic goals in Europe 100%". A prime target is soon-to-be privatised LOT Polish Airlines, with Swissair and oneworld's British Airways also in the bidding.

• Air Canada chief executive Robert Milton has confirmed that Star carriers are looking at joint investment in his airline in the takeover battle with the Onex Corp and the oneworld alliance. He says that Star members have already given a "tremendous amount of support", and that this "will manifest itself in the coming weeks".

Source: Flight International