“Without giving a specific date, one can say that we will complete the work (to be carried out by Air India to join the alliance) by this summer. … After that, they will be ready to join straightaway,” Star Alliance CEO Mark F Schwab told reporters here last night.
Air India was accepted as a future member of Star Alliance in December 2007, but the integration process was halted in July 2011 to enable it complete the merger with erstwhile Indian Airlines. The national carrier was again invited to join the global alliance in December last year following a unanimous decision of Chief Executives of its member airlines.
The carrier’s entry into the global grouping would provide seamless travel by passengers on the alliance network of over 21,900 daily flights to 1,328 cities in 195 countries. Star has a combined fleet strength of over 4,700 aircraft.
Elaborating on the work to be completed before Air India could become the first Indian carrier to join any such grouping, Schwab said this included “all the frontline staff to undergo training to come up to date with Star Alliance requirements” on various fronts. Air India would also have to get its fleet painted with Star Alliance livery and logo.
Air India CMD Rohit Nandan, who was also present alongside the Star CEO, said joining the alliance would significantly improve customer services, frequent flyer programme and brand value, besides providing seamless connectivity to air travellers.
“Air India’s joining the alliance will complete about 30 months of hard work. It will enhance our brand value and provide more connectivity to our passengers,” Nandan said.
Asked whether the airlines group would try to induct another Indian carrier with Jet Airways earlier planning to enter the alliance, Schwab said there could be another airline from India but, at the moment, Star Alliance was not having any active discussion with any airline for getting a second carrier into its fold. “That’s for a later date.”
The Air India chief too said, “We will support (the entry of) a second carrier in good faith.”
On whether the Tata-Singapore Airlines (SIA) venture could be a prospective candidate as SIA was a prominent member of the alliance, Schwab indicated that the proposed airline should start operating first and “it is not necessarily an obvious choice”.
To a question if a no-frills Indian carrier could join, he said Star Alliance would consider those “who add value to the worldwide network of the alliance…. While low cost carriers are changing their model globally by offering premium seating and priority handling, we offer global premium service.”
Observing that the Indian market — the fifth largest in the world — was “evolving quickly”, the alliance chief said, “We have been carefully watching the progress and transformation of Air India. The airline has gone through a difficult merger. We have seen its stabilisation and now it has started executing a fleet renewal plan.”
Schwab and Nandan said Air India, which offered 63 domestic and global destinations to the alliance, would also benefit from connecting to the numerous hubs of the alliance and provide seamless connectivity.
On the improvement in aviation infrastructure in India, Schwab said, “We have been impressed. Such infrastructure facilitates Star Alliance operations.
“With these new airports and terminals, all Star Alliance members can be brought under one roof so that the passengers can be transferred with ease with common check-in counters and lounges.”
At present, 13 members of the alliance operate to ten Indian cities.