Qatar Airways is set to be the first of the fast-expanding Gulf carriers to become a member of one of the global airline alliances, by agreeing to join oneworld.
The move is a coup for oneworld, whose members are led by American Airlines and British Airways, and underlines how the Gulf carriers may no longer be viewed with hostility by western airlines. More
Last month, Dubai-based Emirates announced a partnership with Qantas, the Australian carrier that is also a member of oneworld. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad is in talks with Air France-KLM about a possible code-sharing deal, although nothing has been finalised. Qatar Airways, which has its hub in Doha, has been in discussions for several months about joining oneworld. An announcement could be made next Monday, although Qatar Airways and oneworld declined to comment.
The state-controlled Gulf airlines have alarmed some EU and US airlines by their rapid expansion over the past 20 years. Qatar Airways, established in 1994, has a fleet of 111 aircraft, with more than 200 jets on order.
Germany’s Lufthansa complained in May that it was not competing on a level playing field with the Gulf carriers, and United of the US said in June that they represented a strategic threat.
Emirates has insisted that it has no wish to join a broad airline alliance, saying it wants to control its own destiny.
Etihad last year said some European airlines were reluctant to see a Gulf carrier join an alliance. It has focused on reaching code-share agreements with airlines and buying minority stakes in carriers including Air Berlin and Aer Lingus.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, parent of BA, said this year that Qatar Airways was the most likely of the three Gulf carriers to join an alliance. “I admire what Qatar has achieved,” he said.
IAG is in talks with Qatar Airways about the possibility of the carriers forming a joint business on routes between the UK and Australia.
Qantas is planning to terminate its venture with BA on routes between the UK and Australia if its partnership with Emirates gains regulatory approval.
By joining oneworld, Qatar Airways would be entering the smallest of the three global alliances.
The other two are Star, led by United and Lufthansa, and SkyTeam, whose members include Delta of the US and Air France-KLM.
One benefit for passengers of the alliances is that business travellers normally get the chance to use frequent flyer points on different member carriers.
Carriers often build on their membership by agreeing code-sharing deals on a bilateral basis, which gives them the opportunity to increase revenue.