Star Alliance puts deadline pressure on Air India

Using unusually strong language, Star Alliance CEO Jaan Albrecht issued a warning to Air India that its invitation to join the alliance would be withdrawn if the process is not completed by July 31.

The invitation was originally announced in 2007, but the actual accession to membership has been repeatedly delayed. The carrier was given more time in 2010 to resolve IT issues but it appears that there is a chance that the carrier will fail to meet the new, and final, deadline.

When the carrier was first invited, the alliance consisted of 17 airlines, a number that has since grown to 27. Acknowledging the seemingly endless process Mr Albrecht said: “We will not extend this deadline anymore. One day there must be a final point.”

Jet Airways to be tapped

When asked what this might mean for the alliance in terms of coverage on the sub-continent, Mr Albrecht said that there were other options and that even if Air India were to meet the deadline, the agreement does not promise exclusivity to AI. With Kingfisher already claimed by oneworld, the obvious candidate is Jet Airways which currently hubs its trans-Atlantic operations at Brussels Airport, hub for Brussels Airlines, and a Star member.

Air India has had a checkered history of late, continuing to post losses and most recently hobbled by a pilot strike that grounded most domestic flights for over a week. As a government owned airline, it has often found itself embroiled on politics as well as aviation, with real change and reform elusive.

A failure to meet the deadline might be good news for SkyTeam, which lacks an Indian partner and has not made much progress in solving that dilemma. However, even should that group be able to extend an invitation, there is the likelihood that they will encounter similar problems and delays.

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