The Star Alliance is to take a regionalised approach to further integration with separate centres of gravity developing within the Americas, Europe and Asia.

In Europe, Lufthansa plans to take the lead in forging closer ties with its Star partners - British Midland, Spanair, SAS, and Austrian Airlines.

Lufthansa's executive vice-president sales, Thierry Antinori says: "When you have just five airlines you can integrate very fast." The carriers are moving towards common IT systems for frequent flyer programmes and revenue tracking. Austrian Airlines is already incorporated into Lufthansa's IT system.

Although customer databases will remain off limits, common Star alliance frequent flyer systems in third countries where there is no incumbent alliance member, such as France, are being considered. Antonori contends: "We will synchronise systems as much as possible." Lufthansa is also keen that British Midland doesn't lose the word British when it undergoes a name change in the near future.

The Star leaders United Airlines and Lufthansa have already begun revenue sharing on some transatlantic routes, and this will be extended in 2001, with the eventual aim of covering all transatlantic flights operated by the two carriers. Star insiders say this could be completed by 2003.

In Asia, meanwhile, Lufthansa is keen to keep Thai Airways in the Star Alliance. Thai plans an initial public offering in 2001, and the Air France/Delta Air Lines-led SkyTeam alliance has made no secret of its desire to exploit Thai's unease at Singapore Airlines entry into Star.

Senior board members from Lufthansa flew out to Bangkok in mid-December to celebrate five years of Thai's membership of Star, where it was announced that the two carriers will begin revenue sharing.

Antinori believes there is room for two Star hubs in south-east Asia, given the economic growth in the region and its role as a springboard to other Asia-Pacific countries, such as Australia.

Source: Airline Business