Chris Jasper/SYDNEY


Air China, Mexicana, British Midland and Emirates are all being lined up for possible membership of the Star Alliance, while Singapore Airlines (SIA) has delayed signing up to the global grouping until at least October.

Thai Airways International president Thamnoon Wanglee, speaking exclusively to Flight International, detailed Star's recruitment ambitions, while revealing that SIA originally planned to announce its decision to join Star at the meeting of alliance chief executives in Australia on 3 May, but postponed the move.

Wanglee suggests the delay stemmed from complications surrounding SIA's plans to take a stake in Ansett Australia.

The carrier is a Star member and is half-owned by another, Air New Zealand, which could scupper SIA's strategy by taking full control of Ansett for itself.

The Thai chief says SIA is likely to commit to Star at the next meeting of chief executives in Tokyo in October, when All Nippon Airways will also join the alliance.

United Airlines chairman and chief executive Gerald Greenwald, who also attended the Sydney meeting, says: "We are hopeful SIA will join the alliance. We are trying to do all that is necessary to make sure they join this year."

Meanwhile, SIA has signed an agreement on a strategic partnership with United. The deal leaves Varig and Thai as the only two current Star members which have no bilateral alliance, or memorandum of understanding for a future alliance, with SIA.

Wanglee says it is possible that Air China - previously close to Northwest Airlines - will sign a memorandum of intent (MOI) at the Tokyo meeting in a move that would give the alliance access to the huge Chinese market. Wanglee adds that state-owned Mexicana is also likely to sign an MOI in early July and again raises the notion of "associate membership" of the alliance for second-tier carriers. "Today we said there can be only one tier, but we are working on a definition of an associate member," he says.

Wanglee suggests Star is also working to fill major market gaps in its network. He says talks are ongoing with Emirates of the UAE and British Midland (BM).

Although the Middle East remains a gap in Star's coverage, the enlistment of Emirates would come as a major surprise because the carrier has maintained that it can thrive without joining a global grouping.

Star's interest in BM is confirmed by Lufthansa chairman and chief executive Jurgen Weber, who says talks have been "going on for years", while pointing out that the complex nature of the UK carrier's existing alliances makes it a tough deal to conclude.

Source: Flight International