Star Alliance, the oldest of the global airline alliances, has been around for 20 years. It launched in an era when low-cost giant Ryanair lacked a website and Middle Eastern carriers like Etihad didn’t exist.
And the aviation alliance landscape seems set for more change last month after reports in the Hong Kong press that China Southern, one of China’s largest airlines, could leave Star’s competitor SkyTeam to join rival grouping Oneworld.
The background to the reshuffle is the opening of Beijing’s second international airport in 2019, which is set to shake up the sector. China Southern wants to challenge Air China’s dominance in northern China and it plans to operate a huge fleet out of the new hub, flying some of its new routes in conjunction with American Airlines, a member of Oneworld.
American bought a stake in China Southern for $200 million earlier this year and Oneworld has an obvious weakness in lacking an airline from mainland China, although it does include Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific in its ranks. Of course, Cathay might not be keen on the arrival of a new partner with a home base in Guangzhou, barely 100km from its own hub. Yet there is speculation that Cathay could soon switch to Star, which would put it in the same club as Air China, its second-biggest shareholder and a potential bidder for full control of Cathay in the future. For now though Cathay is denying the rumour, saying it is “committed” to Oneworld and “proud” to be a founding member, which “has served the airline very well”. (For more on Cathay’s strategic dilemmas see WiC377.)