National carrier is likely to join the 28-member by June this year.
“Without giving a specific date, one can say that we will complete all the ground work and formalities of Air India’s entry into the Star Alliance club by this summer. After that, they will be ready to join straightaway,” says Star Alliance CEO Mark F. Schwab.
Integration into the global alliance, a first for an Indian airline, will help debt-ridden Air India boost its revenue by increasing global connectivity through partner airlines.
It will also be able to increase its share of business travellers by gaining access to over 1,000 Star Alliance lounges, and lower fuel costs by making bulk purchases through Star Alliance tie-ups. The Star Alliance has a combined fleet strength of over 4,700 aircraft.
Another Indian airline also could become a member of the Star Alliance soon, Schwab hints, though at the moment the alliance is not having any active discussions in this regard.
Asked whether the yet-to-be launched Tata-(Tata-SIA Airlines) joint venture could be the obvious choice for being the second Indian carrier, he quips, “we will have to see who adds value to the Alliance.”
In 2007, Air India was accepted as a future member of Star Alliance. However, the integration process was halted in July 2011 to enable it to complete the merger with erstwhile Indian Airlines.
The national carrier was again invited to join the global alliance in December last year, following a meeting of the chief executives of the airlines that are members of Star Alliance in Vienna.
“The Indian market is evolving, and quickly. We have been carefully watching the progress and transformation of Air India. The airline has gone through a difficult merger and has now started executing a fleet renewal plan. Our job in Star Alliance is to create connectivity,” Schwab says.
As part of the integration, Air India has been providing training to front-line staff to meet the requirements of the Star Alliance on various fronts. Air India will also need to have its fleet painted with Star Alliance livery and logo.
Among other changes required for the integration—which has been in the works for the past several years—Air India has upgraded its IT platform to SITA’s passenger service system in 2011.
“We are satisfied with the changes made by Air India in the last year. Star Alliance has also changed some membership requirements, and all our 28 members have voted unanimously in favor of Air India,” Schwab says.
Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing Director of Air India, says: “A lot of the work that was done for joining Star Alliance, like upgrading the IT systems, needed to be done anyway to become a modern airline. As for our customer experience, I believe there is always room for improvement.”
“Air India joining the Alliance will complete about 30 months of hard work. Joining the alliance will enhance our brand value and provide more connectivity to our passengers,” Nandan says.
Air India will offer 63 domestic and global destinations to the alliance. At present, 13 members of the Star Alliance operate from 10 Indian cities.