During an official ceremony in Shanghai on April 16, China Eastern President and Chief Executive Officer Ma Xulun joined the CEOs of SkyTeam member...

China Eastern Airlines has applied to join the SkyTeam Airline Alliance.

During an official ceremony in Shanghai on April 16, China Eastern President and Chief Executive Officer Ma Xulun joined the CEOs of SkyTeam member airlines to sign a memorandum of understanding confirming China Eastern Airlines’ plans to join the SkyTeam Alliance by mid-2011.

The signing ceremony took place at the Xijiao State Guest House in Shanghai, witnessed by China Eastern Chairman Liu Shaoyong, Chairman of the SkyTeam Governing Board Leo van Wijk and Managing Director of SkyTeam Marie-Joseph Male.

With China Eastern as a partner, SkyTeam passengers will benefit from improved access to the alliance’s already-extensive Chinese domestic network, SkyTeam says. China Southern Airlines, one of China’s two largest airlines, is already a member of the alliance.

China Eastern, headquartered in Shanghai, is situated in the most economically developed region and the fastest growing city of China, according to SkyTeam.

“Today, China Eastern has taken an important step towards its future growth and the SkyTeam members are honored to be part of this journey,” says van Wijk. “I cannot emphasize the importance of China’s position in the global economy enough and increasing our network presence in this rapidly growing and dynamic part of the world will bring more benefits to both our members and customers. In our 10th anniversary year, the commitment shown by China Eastern will further strengthen SkyTeam’s position as a leading alliance for the future.”

“Joining an international airline alliance is China Eastern Airlines’ strategic deployment to continuously strengthen core profitability and boost market competitiveness,” says Liu. “For China Eastern Airlines, joining SkyTeam is the just way leading to a globalized market, which will provide wider space for growth. It offers rare opportunities to absorb successful experiences and realize great-leap-forward developments. It provides ideal chances to raise [our] management level, improve operation[al] quality and accelerate the application of information technology.”

For China Eastern, “The next step is expected to be taken in June 2010, when China Eastern and SkyTeam will sign an alliance agreement that will lead to the official SkyTeam membership with an effective entry around mid 2011,” says Male. Also in June, SkyTeam plans to welcome two additional members to the alliance, Vietnam Airlines of Vietnam and TAROM of Romania.

One of China's three largest airlines, China Eastern Airlines operates a varied and sizeable fleet that includes five Airbus A330-300s and five A330-200s

With the addition of a second Chinese airline to the alliance, SkyTeam customers worldwide will benefit from greater access to China and the Asia Pacific region, according to SkyTeam. Servicing more than 150 destinations in China and abroad, China Eastern has an extensive route network.

Meanwhile, current SkyTeam member China Southern already covers China through its hubs in Guangzhou and Beijing. Together with China Eastern and its hub in Shanghai, SkyTeam will be able to offer services out of the three major Chinese markets.

SkyTeam says China Eastern will bring 25 unique new destinations that will enrich SkyTeam’s current network. The China Eastern network also covers Southeast Asia, Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia.

Combined with Korean Air, the three Asian carriers will further strengthen SkyTeam’s presence in Asia, the alliance says, adding that China Eastern’s growth ambitions reach far beyond Asia. Cooperation with Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico offers great potential in the transpacific and Latin American markets. At the same time, China Eastern should see increased growth to and from Europe through its cooperation with Aeroflot, Air France, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

SkyTeam has nine existing full members ― Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air France, Alitalia, China Southern Airlines, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Korean Air ― and two associate airlines, Air Europa and Kenya Airways. SkyTeam carriers fly 384 million passengers annually on a worldwide system of more than 13,133 daily flights covering 856 destinations in 169 countries. The alliance will celebrate its 10th anniversary in June 2010.

“China Eastern is an outstanding airline with a strong leadership team and a proud history of serving its customers. We are honored that another leading global airline has chosen to link its future growth and success with Delta and our SkyTeam partners,” says Richard Anderson, Delta Air Lines’ chief executive officer. “China Eastern’s extensive network and growing hub in Shanghai will complement Delta’s existing service to China and improve our customers’ access to destinations across one of the world’s fastest-growing regions.”