Air India''s entry to the Star Alliance is cleared

The Star Alliance, a mega-club of 17 airlines spearheaded by Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, has cleared the entry of the state-owned Air India (AI) to the global aviation group, airline sources indicated. The scale AI achieved by its merger with Indian clinched the deal for the national carrier. German carrier Lufthansa provided the strategic support to seal the deal.

Air India''s entry into the Star Alliance was pending for a long time, leading to speculation that the national carrier might look at other options like OneWorld, if an early decision was not forthcoming.

However, the formal announcement about AI''s entry into the Star Alliance is expected only in December. The arrangement will come into effect early next year, giving Air India passengers seamless connectivity with the networks of all Star Alliance partner airlines. They will also be able to use their frequent flier miles on any Star Alliance carrier.

Star Alliance members includes US Airways, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, BMI, South African Airways and Thai Airways. The membership will provide AI a footprint in Europe, North America and South-East Asia. Members of the alliance fly to 855 destinations in 155 countries.

Initially, Star Alliance members said that Air India did not have a domestic network, and could not be a partner. But the merger with Indian provided it with an extensive domestic network. Service standards are improving, and the merged entity is inducting 111 new planes.

Air France was keen that Air India should join the SkyTeam, and efforts were also on to attract the national carrier to OneWorld. Other private airlines from India were also showing interest in joining the Star Alliance. The government seems to have gently pressured Lufthansa, which has ambitious plans to expand services in India.

Rival alliance OneWorld has 10 members covering 700 destinations in 150 countries. Its members include American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. The third grouping, SkyTeam, is spearheaded by Air France, which recently took over Dutch carrier KLM. Continental Airlines, Delta and Aeroflot are part of Skyteam.