Star Alliance not looking for Middle East carrier

TD Guest Writer

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Mark Schwab
Mark Schwab

Star Alliance is not on the hunt for a Middle East-based member as it focuses on introducing airlines from Latin America and Russia.

The alliance’s CEO Mark Schwab told Travel Daily that current members Turkish Airlines and Egyptair already serve all the destinations in the Middle East region and as such “does not have a gap” in the area within its network.

Instead he is intent on finding a carrier in Russia and working on introducing Air India into its alliance.

Air India previously had problems with its Star Alliance entry after failing to meet the joining conditions back in December 2007.

Its membership process was renewed in December 2013 now Star is confident of the infrastructure at both the airline and India’s aviation sector.

“We’ve been working very closely with Air India for a number of years. The reality is that they had a tough merger they went through a few years ago between Air India and Indian Airlines. That work is completed now and there is new IT, infrastructure and have a huge fleet renewal programme with Dreamliners. We still have some work to do but I don’t see any barriers,” he explained.

With the India gap now filled in its network Schwab would now like to introduce a Russian carrier to the fold, but again has been faced with infrastructure and consolidation barriers.

“There is one large geographical area that there is still a gap in and that is in Russia. Star Alliance has no home carrier there yet as that has its own infrastructure and consolidation issues and we don’t have a resolution to that yet,” Schwab said.

Latin America will also be a gap when TAM leaves as part of its merger with LATAM, but Star will get connections back through the addition of Avianca and partner carrier Avianca Brazil.

Furthermore the Brazilian carrier has also announced new flights from Heathrow to Bogota launching soon, just as Star Alliance plans to move into its new home at the London airport’s Terminal 2.

Dubbed the “signature project” in Star’s entire year, 4 June will see the 22 (23 with Avianca) Star Alliance that operate from Heathrow move under one roof in the new Queen’s Terminal.

Airlines will be progressively introduced to the new terminal from June for six months.

“London is one of the most attractive flight destinations in the world and for us to be able to get all our carriers at Heathrow into one fantastic new terminal is something we have been working on for now for months,” Schwab said.

While slots are limited at the airport Schwab expects members will add larger aircraft to routes instead to cope with demand.

Although not directly endorsing a third runway at the airport, Schwab and Star Alliance nevertheless recognises the damage that the limited capacity is having on the UK.

“We’ve met with Howard Davies and we feel very strongly that this is a growing market and one that needs to keep up with all that is going on around the world. The world is not standing still waiting to see what happens in London; everybody is building new airports, terminals and runways,” he explained. “I can see the shift of business moving away from the UK over other gateways and to me it seems quite important that these developments are recognised and passengers, particularly for business travellers, see that a solution can be come to.”
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