The Star Alliance will extend its coverage in Africa with the forthcoming addition of South African Airways (SAA), and is still working on recruiting partners in China, Russia and India.

SAA has opted to join the Star Alliance after a two-year deliberation over whether to remain a stand-alone carrier or tie itself to one of the global alliances. The airline, which is having its application sponsored by long-term partner Lufthansa, is set to become the first African carrier to join one of the big three alliances.

"This alliance will strengthen SAA's position as a global player of note and this strategic move comes at a time when SAA wants to pull out all the stops for its customer-care drive," said SAA chief executive Andre Viljoen. "We estimate that when in full operation the alliance will yield substantial additional US dollar revenue for SAA."

SAA has codeshare relationships with carriers in all three alliances, but these will naturally "fall away" as its ties with Star strengthen.

Elsewhere, Star's so-called "white spot" strategy, which identifies geographical areas with large traffic flows where the alliance needs to fill a gap, is concentrating on recruiting members in China, Russia and India, says Star chief executive Jaan Albrecht. As the consolidation between Chinese carriers speeds up, Star feels it too has to accelerate its efforts to sign up a major local partner.

But having spent three years actively working to sign up a Chinese major, Albrecht believes it will be "natural market forces" as much as anything that prompt any decisions. "It gets back to the Chinese government and when it allows its airlines to align. Today our members are working with all of the Chinese carriers in bilateral relationships," he says, with eight codeshare arrangements already in place.

Although it already has close links with SkyTeam's Air France and CSA Czech Airlines, Russian flag carrier Aeroflot says that suggestions it is close to joining the alliance are wide of the mark. In late January SkyTeam announced that Aeroflot had decided to formally bid for membership. Star's Albrecht stresses that the "case is still in the air" as far as Aeroflot is concerned, and that Star is still talking to the carrier about possible membership.

"I don't know why they announced it," Albrecht says of SkyTeam revealing that Aeroflot had bid for membership. "We don't announce bid speculation. I could tell you of 10 bids Star has had from carriers, but we don't announce anything until it is a fait accompli."

A replacement for Mexicana in Central America, following the carrier's decision to leave Star, is not imminent as there is not too much choice, says Albrecht. Mexicana's membership ceased at the end of March. Star is reviewing its strategy in the region, and could look to ally with a group of regional feeder carriers to help fill in the gap, he says.

Following on from its work to define a common Star standard for regional jet aircraft, a group of three or four carriers within the alliance are to begin working on one for Boeing's proposed 7E7 widebody. It will be the first mainline aircraft to go through Star's aircraft standardisation campaign.

The 7E7 exercise will be different to the regional jet specification because it is an aircraft still on the drawing board, says Albrecht. However, the result is the same - a Star standard aircraft that all carriers in the alliance can purchase.


Source: Airline Business