British Airways parent IAG may bring a Gulf airline into the Oneworld alliance this year and considers Qatar Airways Ltd. to be a top candidate, IAG’s chief executive officer said on Wednesday.
“We’ll keep all options open but I admire what Qatar has achieved,” CEO Willie Walsh said in an interview at an industry conference in Barcelona. “The combination of what CEO Al Baker has done with the airline and what Qatar has done with the new airport at Doha makes it very interesting.”
Most international airlines belong to one of the three global marketing alliances - Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star - which typically allow them to sell seats on one another’s flights as their own and to link frequent flyer programs. Some Gulf carriers are now likely to join one of the groupings, Walsh said today at the conference.
“The industry has matured to a point where we’ll see Mideast carriers join the alliances this year,” Walsh said at the event. “Within Oneworld, we’ve been debating it. To my mind, they’re key players in the industry.”
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Emirates, the world’s largest airline by international traffic, is unlikely to join an alliance because its network is big enough that it doesn’t need partners, Walsh said. Qatar and Etihad Airways, the Middle East’s third-largest carrier, are more likely to team with others, the CEO predicted.
“We never comment on speculation of this nature, except to say that we talk regularly and frequently to many airlines and a range of other businesses from all over the world about issues and opportunities,” Etihad said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg. Qatar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar Airways serves 113 destinations around the world, with a particular focus on the Mideast and Far East. It has 108 planes in its fleet, and over 250 more on order from Boeing and Airbus, giving it one of the aviation industry’s larger order books.
IAG, or International Consolidated Airlines Group, was created from the merger of British Airways with Spain’s Iberia in January of last year. Oneworld members include IAG, AMR Corp’s American Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Qantas Airways and Royal Jordanian Airlines.