The Star Alliance looks set to gain a seventh member as Singapore Airlines (SIA) officially broke away from its long-standing alliance with Swissair and Delta Air Lines on 25 November in favour of a wide-ranging partnership with Star-founder Lufthansa.

Lufthansa chairman Jurgen Weber, speaking after the signing in Singapore of an initial bilateral agreement with SIA, said that there could be room for up to nine carriers in the Star grouping, which already includes Air Canada, SAS, Thai Airways International, United Airlines and the recently signed-up Brazilian carrier Varig.

A queue appears to be forming to fill the remaining gaps in the alliance's global coverage. SIA's two new partners Air New Zealand and Ansett, have expressed interest in joining, while Star continues to court South African Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways and All Nippon Airways (ANA).

Weber suggests that a two-tier system could evolve, with a first tier of full Star members and a second tier of "associates", providing access to specific markets.

As a first step in their so-far bilateral co-operation, SIA and Lufthansa have promised to add three flights a week between Singapore and Frankfurt from April, bringing the total to ten apiece. From July, a series of code-shares will begin between the two hubs and beyond, as well as SIA's on-flight from Frankfurt to New York. Maintenance and cargo links are also in prospect.

SIA's former partners Swissair and Delta remain philosophical about the break-up of the eight-year Global Excellence partnership. All agreed that the alliance, which was backed by small cross-shareholdings, had promised more than it had delivered.

Delta, which says that it will press ahead with its Swissair alliance, claims that SIA's withdrawal will have minimal impact, pointing to existing services that it runs to Japan, South Korea and India. Delta also has code-shares with Korean Air and ANA - although both these are already potentially linked with Star members - as well as a deal with China Southern Airways that is awaiting government approval. Delta says that it will explore other arrangements with partners which are "more compatible".

Swissair is making the best of the news, saying that it will look for individual co-operation agreements to cover specific "high-potential Asian markets". The airline claims to be holding "intensive talks with a number of airlines in Japan, China and South-East Asia". Like Delta, Swissair promises more destinations in Asia, pointing to collaboration with Air China and a codeshare recently begun with Malaysia Airlines.

Source: Flight International