Talks with Ethiopian Airlines and Grupo TACA over their potential membership in the Star Alliance are continuing as the group's management continues to evaluate attributes offered by each carrier.

Earlier this year Ethiopian CEO Grima Wake indicated the carrier's interest in applying for Star membership in 2010. Ethiopian has codeshare agreements with Star members Lufthansa Airlines, South African Airways, BMI and future Star member Brussels Airlines.

Star director of network and membership development Marcus Puffer told ATI earlier this week at a ceremony celebrating Continental's official entry into the grouping that the talks with Ethiopian were still occurring. He says as with all evaluations with potential members, benefits for both the carrier and the alliance need consideration.

TACA executives this week also met with Star Alliance members in New York regarding its potential membership in the group. Roughly a year ago its CEO Roberto Kriete disclosed the airline group based in El Salvador had submitted an application to Star. He initially estimated the alliance's leaders would make a decision regarding TACA's membership by the end of 2008.

During the recent ALTA Leadership Forum Kriete reiterated that Star continues to be the right path for the carrier despite the delay in the alliance deciding on the carrier's application. Puffer says Star's evaluation of TACA is continuing with the added element of its planned merger with Colombian carrier Avianca.

Avianca's parent company Synergy Group currently owns Brazilian carrier OceanAir, and Puffer explains Star needs to consider what that could mean for another Brazilian operator TAM, which is scheduled to join the alliance during the first half of 2010.

Once the Avianca-TACA merger receives all the appropriate regulatory approvals, a new holding company will be created. Avianca CEO Fabio Villegas told ATI at ALTA that the carrier plans to exercise options it has to acquire OceanAir and Ecuadorian carrier AeroGal, which would result in both carriers being owned by the new holding company.

Kriete says Avianca and its sister carriers could potentially also join Star. But as Avianca and TACA will remain separate carriers he says Avianca will make its own decision on whether to join Star, another alliance or remain independent.

Villegas says Avianca is currently not considering any of the global alliances although he acknowledges this could change as the merger will create a larger network which could change Avianca's alliance thinking. Villegas says in the meantime "TACA should continue with the process" of joining Star. "It's the right thing for them to go ahead."

TACA already has codeshare agreements with several Star carriers including Lufthansa, United Airlines and US Airways.

Avianca codeshares with carriers from a mix of alliances including SkyTeam's Delta Air Lines and oneworld's Iberia. Avianca also already codeshares with TACA and Mexicana, which is joining oneworld next month. Villegas says Avianca, which before the merger was announced had indicated it prefers to stay independent rather than join a global alliance, plans to maintain all its codeshare partnerships.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news