Qatar Airways to Join Oneworld Alliance
At a high-profile press conference at New York’s Four Seasons Hotel, American Airlines CEO Tom Horton, International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh and oneworld CEO Bruce Ashby spoke individually before conveying a formal welcome to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker. Executives from several other oneworld members were also in attendance, including Japan Airlines, Finnair and Royal Jordanian.
Qatar’s membership process is expected to be completed in 12 to 18 months, but al Baker said he hoped it could be accomplished in under a year. Of the 119 airports Qatar serves, 15 will be new additions to the oneworld route map. Qatar will also extend the oneworld network to three new countries: Iran, Rwanda and the Seychelles. Two oneworld carriers already fly to Qatar’s hub in Doha, British Airways from London and Royal Jordanian from Amman. Member elect SriLankan also flies to Doha from Colombo.
Based on current route maps, once integration of Qatar and oneworld fellow members-elect Malaysia Airlines and SriLankan Airlines are completed, the alliance will serve 856 destinations in 159 countries. The combined oneworld fleet of 2,600 aircraft will carry nearly 1 million passengers daily aboard 9,300 daily flights.
Despite the impressive numbers, Star Alliance and SkyTeam will remain the number one and two alliances, respectively, measured by total airports and countries served. Oneworld market share is expected to rise significantly with the addition of Qatar on a number of continent pairings, particularly Europe-Asia and Asia-Africa.
The move had been widely expected by industry followers, despite denials by al Baker in recent weeks.
Qatar becomes the first of the major Persian Gulf carriers to join a formal alliance. Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad have sealed codeshares and marketing agreements with a number of individual airlines, but have so far avoided the three major airline alliance groups, oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. When asked by a reporter about Qatar’s motivation to join oneworld rather than one of the other alliances, al Akbar said, “We like to go for people who are goldsmiths, not those who are scrap dealers.”
Some interesting conflicts could potentially arise from the deal, though when asked at the press conference, the airlines denied that they’d be a problem. For example, oneworld member Qantas recently abandoned an extensive marketing partnership with fellow oneworlders British Airways in favor of a similar deal with Emirates, Qatar’s leading competitor. Al Baker said it was not a problem thanks to Qatar’s unique route offerings, while IAG’s Walsh said that Australia represented a tiny market for British Airways.