Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker says the airline will add more U.S. destinations to its network as a result of becoming a member-elect...

Asked why it had taken so long for any of the Gulf carriers to decide to join an alliance, Al Baker said it hadn’t taken long at all. “Quite the contrary – I think we have joined an alliance quickly,” he said. “We’re a young airline: we’re only 15 years old. It’s a good step and a quick step.”

Hours before the Qatar Airways announcement, Abu Dhabi-based rival Etihad Airways – currently the smallest of the three big Gulf-based carriers – had confirmed a codeshare deal with Air France, a SkyTeam alliance member. Both carriers said they expected the codeshare deal to represent the first step of a much more wide-ranging strategic alliance and it is conceivable Etihad could yet become a member of SkyTeam.


Qatar Airways has ordered and optioned a total of 60 Boeing 787s. This is a computer graphic image of a Boeing 787-8 in the airline’s colors

 

Al Baker dismissed contemptuously the Etihad Airways-Air France agreement and Etihad’s potential alignment with the SkyTeam alliance,  saying that in alliance terms his airline wanted to partner with “gold dealers, not scrap dealers”. He also said Emirates and Qatar Airways are “the two largest and the two dominant airlines in the Middle East and they always will be”.

A month ago, Dubai-based Emirates announced a new strategic partnership with oneworld member Qantas Airways, aimed at increasing Qantas’ and Emirates’ shares of Europe, West Asia, Africa and South America traffic to and from Australia.

At the same time carrier Qantas ended its long-extant revenue-sharing agreement with fellow oneworld member British Airways on Australia-Europe one-stop routes, which the two carriers primarily ran via Singapore. Qantas’ decision to partner with Emirates came soon after Etihad Airways and Virgin Australia – Qantas’ only major rival in Australia – had announced a strategic partnership.

Bruce Ashby, CEO of oneworld, said Qantas’ burgeoning relationship with Emirates did not represent a conflict of interest for the alliance now Qatar Airways is joining it.

By 2012, Qatar Airways had ordered 25 Boeing 777-300ERs

 

Oneworld has always taken the view that “there is no conflict of interest in being a member of the alliance and in having a bilateral relationship with another airline”, said Ashby. He noted Qantas’ decision was primarily “a network issue” arising from the fact that the Gulf carriers’ hubs are “well-positioned” to serve as intermediate destinations on the long, one-stop routes between Australia and Europe.

While Qatar Airways serves Melbourne and recently added Perth in Western Australia to its network, Emirates has “10 times more seats” and many more flights to Australia than QR and so it made more sense for Qantas to partner with Emirates from Australia than with Qatar Airways, Ashby said.

“That doesn’t preclude them [Qantas] from working with oneworld everywhere else in the world,” Ashby added.

Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce was supportive of oneworld’s decision to invite Qatar Airways to join and also had indicated to oneworld that Qantas wanted to continue working with the alliance.

This is one of 12 Airbus A321-200s in Qatar Airways’ fleet

 

IAG also strongly supported Qantas’ decision to partner with Emirates to boost international traffic to and from Australia, said Walsh, adding that UK-Australia traffic has always been only a very small part of British Airways’ business.

Al Baker then confirmed Qatar Airways would be happy to work with Qantas, despite the Australian airline’s growing relationship with QR’s biggest rival. “We would work within the framework of oneworld,” said Al Akber. “I think there are a lot of opportunities to work with Qantas and British Airways as part of oneworld – particularly because Qatar Airways operates to many places Emirates doesn’t.”

In a year when oneworld has added Airberlin and Iberia Express to its membership roll and lined up Malaysia Airlines, SriLankan Airlines and Qatar Airways as future members, the alliance is also waiting to hear LATAM’s decision regarding the potential induction into oneworld of Brazilian giant TAM. Until now TAM has been a member of Star Alliance.

Chilean and Brazilian regulatory authorities made it a condition of allowing the LAN Group and the TAM Group to merge to form LATAM (their respective airlines continuing to operate separately) that neither could be in the same alliance as AviancaTaca, another Latin American giant resulting from consolidation.

Qatar Airways has been operating four Airbus A340-600s, but the airline intends to phase the type out of its fleet

 

Since AviancaTaca (whose airlines Avianca and Taca also both continue to operate separately) is a member of Star Alliance, Ashby said this means the choice now for TAM is to join oneworld, join SkyTeam or become unaffiliated with any alliance.

Since SkyTeam has already lined up TAM Airlines rival Aerolineas Argentinas to become a member and the LAN Group is an existing oneworld member, Ashby reckons that effectively the choice for TAM now is to join oneworld or be unaffiliated. Oneworld hopes to hear LATAM’s alliance decision for TAM within the next two months, Ashby said.

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