Star Alliance partners United Airlines, Air Canada and Lufthansa are expected to choose a vendor for their IT platform before the end of the year according to sources close to the decision.

Two bidding consortia are now left, with Lufthansa Systems teaming up with SITA and Unisys, while Amadeus has got together with global management consultancy Accenture. When the tender was launched a year ago, 10 parties were in the bidding, although a number of these have consequently joined forces.

If the Lufthansa Systems bid is chosen, this could lead to the German IT provider hosting reservations and inventory for the three partners, bypassing the traditional global distribution system (GDS) role and providing direct links to Internet booking engines and call centres.

Sources close to the negotiations say the role of GDS providers in the Lufthansa Systems proposal is still being discussed. However, as Amadeus is the GDS for nine of the 15 Star members, it could yet be heavily involved even if Lufthansa Systems wins out. Lufthansa Systems and Amadeus are not allowed to discuss co-operation during the bidding, but insiders say "they are watching each other like hawks".

United's ageing legacy system urgently needs replacing as the costs of upgrades, maintenance and training start to mount. Having been persuaded by its two partners to choose an alliance-friendly option, the three-carrier platform will provide a template that other Star members can join at a later date if they so wish.

Sources point out that United's decision to renew its contract with GDS provider Galileo should not be read as a sign that it is wavering over the Star option, as this contract was for renewal in 2004 and will need to be extended as the new system will not be in place by this date.

Source: Airline Business