The Oneworld alliance expects its latest recruit, Qatar Airways, to help it boost its presence in the expanding African market where it currently trails its two rival groups.

Oneworld's only African presence is through British Airways affiliate, South African carrier Comair. Rivals Star Alliance and SkyTeam each have African flag carriers among their members. Ethiopian and South African Airways are members of Star while Kenya Airways is in SkyTeam.

"I'd like more service in Africa and we're always keeping our eyes open," says Oneworld chief executive Bruce Ashby. "That was one of the reasons we were keen on Qatar coming in because they give a lot of access to a number of high quality [African] destinations in a way that works for a lot of our members to link up to."

The African market could finally be positioned to power growth for airlines serving the region, he adds: "There's a fundamental strength building in Africa. I'm not certain about the timing, but it's definitely right to say the conditions are aligning to move Africa in a sustained forward direction rather than an up-and-down cycle. And Qatar Airways provides a way to connect our network to the key African cities."

Ashby says Qatar Airways should complete the joining process within 12-18 months and will bring significant network opportunities to its members: "There's actually very little overlap and quite a lot of synergy between Oneworld members and Qatar Airways."

International Airlines Group, parent of Qatar Airways' Oneworld sponsor airline British Airways, is likely to take the most advantage from the Doha-based airline's membership, says Ashby.

"IAG clearly has some interest in the relationship and I expect will benefit from it. All the airlines in Asia and North America will benefit from access to parts of the Middle East and Africa which we had previously been relatively unrepresented in," he says. "On the other hand, Qantas will probably be a little more interested in its Emirates relationship so they may be the least engaged, but they can also benefit from the Qatar membership."

Source: Flight International