Grouping set to become 17-strong, but still courts partners in Australia and China

The Star Alliance will have a membership base of 17 carriers within a year, after Asiana Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines and Spanair were approved this month as partners.

The alliance is meanwhile continuing to seek a partner in China and is looking to build its presence in Australia after the September collapse of then-member Ansett.

Star's chief executive board approved the entry of the three new airlines in Shanghai on 1 June. It is expected they will join "within the next six-12 months".

Polish national carrier LOT had been preparing to confirm membership in Star for some time (Flight International, 7-13 August, 2001). Formerly a member of now-defunct Swissair's Qualiflyer alliance, it signed a codeshare agreement with Lufthansa this year. Spain's Spanair, controlled by Star member Scandinavian Airlines, had also been seen as a Star candidate for some time.

Confirmation that Asiana will join Star comes after years of studying Star and the rival Oneworld grouping. Star member All Nippon Airways has been urging it to take a place for more than two years.

The South Korean carrier has a fast-growing international network that includes an increasing number of routes to China. Asiana also has strong ties to Chinese majors Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines.

Since its establishment five years ago, Star has sought a member in China and says it expects Air China to join eventually. Star is not disclosing plans for Australia. Ansett's collapse last year left it without a partner in Australia and Oneworld's Qantas is the only major international carrier in the country.

Many expect Star member Singapore Airlines to venture into Australia by establishing a carrier there. Deputy chairman and chief executive Cheong Choong Kong said in Shanghai that he does not want to "do Qantas a favour" by revealing his plans.

Another way for Star to re-establish itself in Australia is through member Air New Zealand (ANZ), Ansett's former owner. The situation is complicated by the fact that Qantas is in talks to take a stake in ANZ. If talks succeed, ANZ would have to leave Star.

Source: Flight International