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Aviation

Oneworld prepared for Qatar Airways to leave but it is not giving up on trying to convince them to stay put

  • Rob Gurney, CEO of the airline alliance, tells Post the group wants Doha-based carrier to stay
  • Oneworld is continuing with biggest membership expansion in several years, having recently added Royal Air Maroc to its roster, with China Southern Airways possibly to come
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2018, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2018, 11:06pm

Oneworld is braced for the exit of gulf carrier Qatar Airways, but the airline alliance has made a plea for the Gulf carrier to stay within the global airline grouping.

Despite the fissures in the global pact, CEO of the alliance Rob Gurney said in an exclusive interview with the Post that the group was ploughing on with its biggest expansion of member airlines in several years.

Qatar Airways remained a member of the airline club as of the conclusion of the biannual Oneworld board meeting in New York last week, having not yet carried out its threat to quit, according to multiple sources who were present. The Gulf airline confirmed this was the case, in spite of its CEO Akbar Al Baker skipping the gathering entirely.

Gurney praised the Gulf carrier as a “terrific airline” but he made an impassioned plea for its member to stay.

“We think the alliance adds a lot of value to them. They add a lot of value to the alliance. We don’t want them to leave, but at the end of the day, this has got to work for them; it has got to work for everybody,” he said.

The Doha-based carrier previously gave a deadline of Christmas before it would make good on its promise to leave. Alliance insiders, however, expected formal notice to be given at the New York board meeting.

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If they feel that there are elements that are not working so well for them, they have to make their own decision
Rob Gurney, CEO, Oneworld

Asked whether he could keep the alliance together, Gurney responded: “If they feel that there are elements that are not working so well for them, they have to make their own decision … And we’re not saying, they make up their mind to go. We want them to stay.”

Oneworld is the most recognised of the airline alliances in Hong Kong, with Cathay Pacific Airways one of its founding members. Rivals include Star Alliance and Skyteam, who have Singapore Airlines and Delta Air Lines as its top carriers respectively.

African airline Royal Air Maroc last week said it would join the alliance as a core member, with China Southern Airlines poised to be the next to join.

“I don’t think we are in an enormous growth spurt but there are enough candidates and prospects up there for us,” Gurney said, speaking of the alliance’s biggest expansion push for several years.

Another Oneworld initiative to add regional carriers to its portfolio so that member airlines’ fliers can fly further also took off last week. Fiji Airways started cooperating with selected core alliance members, including Cathay Pacific. Alaska Airlines recently expressed interest in joining the same programme.

“As a general principle we don’t talk about membership candidates but we have a very solid pipeline of candidates,” Gurney said. “As that programme matures, we would expect to have six to eight airlines in it over time.”

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Oneworld member carriers engage in a basic form of cooperation as part of the alliance’s rules and requirements. This includes recognising fellow airline’s frequent fliers, offering the same benefits, such as lounge access and other types of services and customer support.

If Qatar Airways does eventually leave, frequent travellers of fellow member airlines may lose out on the perks.

“We have had experiences of airlines leaving the alliance … we have a well-established process of how we handle these situations. We wait for them to occur but we can initiate them very quickly and the biggest focus is to make sure the customer is protected,” Gurney said of the impact on customers and minimising disruption.

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Oneworld has tried to play diplomat with Qatar Airways and the other member airlines over the issues the Gulf carrier sees but the alliance may get punished for the issues which were outside its control, specific airline to airline, country to country issues.

“Ever since Oneworld was created, there have been issues of friction between individual pairings of members,” an industry source said, explaining that each knew they would inevitably compete against one another, citing how Cathay fended off Qantas launching a budget airline.

However, it was up to airlines to pursue deeper cooperation where it made business or strategic sense, which went beyond the Oneworld membership. Some airlines did and some did not, but this is what the crux of the issue was for Qatar, the opportunity for cooperation but rather a lack of it, the source said.

Qatar Airways owns a 9.99 per cent stake in Cathay Pacific. The Doha-based carrier has a fleet of 225 aircraft with more than 200 planes on order. It flies to 156 passenger destinations worldwide.