Dragonair, the mainland airline 17.8 per cent-owned by Cathay Pacific, is set to join the new 'oneworld' global alliance of airlines - which was formally launched in Hong Kong and London yesterday - within the next 12 months. In a move that will catapult the alliance into the much-coveted mainland market, Cathay Pacific chief executive David Turnbull said Dragonair was likely to become a member once it had fulfilled certain qualifying criteria. He said the alliance - code-named Link before it was officially launched yesterday - was also considering whether to invite another mainland carrier to join it in a bid to exploit even further the mainland's domestic market. 'This doesn't open up mainland China . . . Dragonair, I believe, will come on board . . . but if we want to fly domestically, we may have to consider taking on another partner,' Mr Turnbull said. The likely inclusion of Dragonair would bolster the alliance and make it a key rival to the Star Alliance. Oneworld's core partners are Cathay, British Airways (BA), American Airlines (AA), Qantas of Australia and Canadian Airlines, grouping together some of the biggest airline brand-names in the world and serving 632 destinations in 138 countries. Last year, they carried 174 million passengers, and have a combined 220,000 employees. The Star Alliance groups together United Airlines of the United States, Germany's Lufthansa, Thai Airways, Brazil's Varig Airlines and Sweden's SAS, which together serve 654 destinations in 108 countries. Last year, they carried 184 million passengers and employed 231,000. Qantas chief executive James Strong said the new alliance, which will start o offer co-ordinated services from February next year, will also put in place interchangeable frequent-flyer programmes, so customers can add air miles gained from one partner to miles gained from another. Oneworld officials said that, aside from Dragonair, it was hoped Japan Airlines could also be attracted to join the alliance, as well as Spain's Iberia. Finnair said it hoped to join the group as soon as possible. 'This is not about management waffle and large ideas; this is about real improvements in the current service,' Mr Turnbull said. The deal is also not linked to the ability of BA and AA to win regulatory approval for their long-standing plans to merge, which has been bitterly opposed by BA's main rival in Britain, Virgin Atlantic. Mr Turnbull predicted that Cathay, which suffered its first loss for 35 years in the first six months, would see earnings benefits coming through within the next two years, with an enhanced ability to offer a 'seamless' service to almost any top destination in the world. It is also thought the deal could help boost employment at the airline, as the alliance envisages setting up a comprehensive network of customer-support service desks. All partners have pledged that the new service will not have a negative impact on fares and will serve to build on existing bilateral relationships that already exist for some airlines. Mr Turnbull said Dragonair was likely to join once it met certain criteria, such as putting in place its own frequent-flyer programme which could link with other members, and met certain levels of customer-support standards uniform among the alliance partners. The inclusion of Cathay as a core member of the alliance, with Dragonair set to join eventually, means it is now unlikely that any other Asian airline will be permitted to join. Cathay's director of sales and marketing, Peter Buecking, said it could not be ruled out, saying all partners looked forward to Japan Airlines joining, but he noted that the existing membership already covered much of Asia. 'Between Qantas and Cathay Pacific there will still be parts of Asia where we cannot offer a service . . . but it is hard to find many places,' he said.