Oneworld is set to undergo its biggest expansion in five years, as three major and strategically-positioned airlines join the alliance in 2012.
Germany’s Air Berlin and India’s Kingfisher will become oneworld partners in the first half of the year, followed by Malaysia Airlines in late 2012.
The three carriers will increase oneworld’s network reach by around 20% and add some 150 destinations to the alliance.
“Since Star decided not to proceed with Air India’s membership, Kingfisher will be the first airline from India to join an alliance” says Michael Blunt, oneworld’s Vice-President for Corporate Communications.
“Kingfisher has a great reputation and it’s now India’s leading airline in terms of passengers carried and destinations services as well as being India’s only five-star airline as judged by Skytrax” Blunt told Australian Business Traveller.
“Air Berlin is probably less familiar to Australians, and most people see Air Berlin as technically a low-cost carrier” Blunt admits, “but they’ve grown out of that and they now describe themselves as a ‘hybrid carrier’ with lower fares than Lufthansa but still offering high quality”.
“If you fly long haul with Air Berlin they have lie-flat business class beds and within Europe they’ve got a fantastic network, so we’re really exited about that.”
Air Berlin, Kingfisher and Malaysia Airlines are all vital to filling some of the last remaining gaps in the oneworld network.
While oneworld has four airlines in Europe, for example, each of these – British Airways, Finnair, Spain’s Iberia and Hungary’s Malev – is based on the edge of Europe.
“Air Berlin gives us a network right in the centre of Europe and it connects all those points together, so for Australians its going to be fantastic” Blunt enthuses.
“In the same way, Malaysia Airlines will provide us with a footprint in south-east Asia and develop our network quite substantially.”
“These airlines expand our network into regions of the world which are really important to our core customers, who are business travellers” Blunt explains.
“Germany is Europe’s biggest economy, south-east Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions of demand in the world, and India is going to be the world’s second biggest economy in the next 20 years or so.”
“So while we don’t have the most member airlines or the biggest network, we think our airlines represent pretty much the best of each region in the world” Blunt says.
“We believe we have the best network for our target audience of business travellers, especially the international multi-sector business travellers, those are the guys we’re gunning for.”
Next up for oneworld will likely be Qantas’ new ‘premium’ Asian airline and, in the longer term, a carrier from mainland China.
“We’d like to be able to fill that gap” Blunt admits. “It’s no secret that we were interested in China Eastern, but 18 months ago they decided to go into SkyTeam alongside China Southern."
"We think the market has got a bit of change still to come about, we think there’s going to be further consolidation amongst the carriers, so in the long term we’d certainly like someone from China who can provide business travellers with interconnecting flights in the mainland.”