SkyTeam firmly established itself as the fastest-growing alliance with the formal accession of Continental and Northwest Airlines and KLM at an event where the addition of two more prospective members, Aeroflot and China Southern Airlines, was confirmed.

Welcoming the new members at a ceremony in New York, Air France chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta said of the two applicants: "The process is under way. We hope we will have the pleasure between now and 18 months to welcome them."

The addition of 10 more hubs and 141 new destinations to the alliance increases complexity, and SkyTeam is considering some changes to governance structure, says Spinetta. "We have considered the issue. It's obvious that when you are nine, it is more complex to work than when you are six. We have to concentrate not only on revenues but also on costs. But we'll maintain the same principles in terms of governance. We are all at the same level and we will continue to work with steering committees."

Alitalia corporate vice-president for alliances and international relations Giorgio Callegari says SkyTeam is also preparing to add its first associate members, even though the associate/affiliate membership concept was originally intended to be completed last year. "Nevertheless, we have developed a scheme to add them and we plan to receive carriers by the end of 2004 to early 2005," he says. Air Europa, Kenya Airways and Malev are all considered likely candidates.

Spinetta says alliance members continue to review details of Alitalia's participation as the Italian carrier struggles to restructure, but he is confident Alitalia will play a key role.

Spinetta says the alliance will continue joint fuel tenders among alliance partners at specific airports, but is not likely to form a fuel-purchasing company, as Star Alliance has. IT projects will also be handled on an ad-hoc basis, says Spinetta, and Northwest chief executive Richard Anderson says alliance-wide e-ticketing could be in place by the end of 2005.

Some pairings within SkyTeam plan to consider joint aircraft purchases, says KLM chief executive Leo van Wijk. KLM has agreed to work with Northwest to study joint specifications for the Boeing 7E7. "It's at the initial stages," says van Wijk, adding that the 7E7 project could evolve between 2007 and 2012 as the Boeing twinjet replaces the DC-10s and MD-11s now used by Northwest and KLM.

Various carriers already co-operate more closely on aircraft specification. KLM and Northwest both feature a two-class service, with a business product serving as the premium class. KLM and its merger partner Air France have made progress on "almost identical" cockpit specifications for their Airbus A330-200s, which are scheduled to enter service next summer. The passenger accommodations would differ because "the business markets at Paris and Amsterdam are different", says van Wijk.

With the new membership, the Wings alliance pioneered by KLM and Northwest more than a decade ago is effectively dissolved, while a domestic alliance among Continental, Delta Air Lines and Northwest is expanded.


Source: Airline Business