Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan gave the keynote speech for the World Routes conference here in Abu Dhabi, representing the host carrier in his airline’s home town. He presented Etihad’s growth plans and strategy and once he was done, the conference hall emptied quite a bit.
But the conference talk was not really about Hogan and Etihad, rather about rival Qatar Airways and its CEO Akbar Al Baker. Qatar Airways is understood to have been in negotiations to join the Oneworld alliance. And following the bilateral deal between Emirates and Qantas, this would be taking the development of the Gulf carriers one step further. According to industry sources, an announcement may now be only days away. Qatar Airways is “not commenting on the speculation and rumours,” an official said.
Admitting Qatar to Oneworld would follow the same logic as the Emirates/Qantas tie-up: if you can’t beat them, join them. But what is it with Oneworld and the Gulf carriers? Qantas is in Oneworld, Etihad owns 29% of Air Berlin (a Oneworld member) and now Qatar appears to join the alliance.
That unusual situation is the consequence of how far reaching the industry changes are. And while Qantas has stated that it will remain in Oneworld, some observers believe that may not be true forever. And with Etihad negotiating a code-sharing agreement with Air France and Air Berlin standing by to join, its Oneworld relationship is losing importance, or as Hogan puts it: “Oneworld is secondary.” That may be true for Air Berlin, but if it’s more than rumours and speculation, then it is certainly no longer true for Qatar Airways.