Skyteam chief executive Michael Wisbrun says the alliance’s goal for the period ahead is to grow its network and deepen cooperation among its 20 member airlines.
The alliance has Delta in the US, Air France/KLM in Europe and a trio of carriers in the fast-growing China aviation sector – China Eastern, China Southern and Xiamen Air – among others meaning it already has a strong network in some of the world’s biggest markets.
So rather than picking up more carriers, Wisbrun says the focus was on “getting the basics right within the alliance for the customer” on areas such as the transfer process at Skyteam hubs, standardised elite passenger benefits, Skyteam lounges, and collaboration between its members.
“The number of members is not of relevance but the question is are you in the relevant markets with relevant market shares and that answer is positive,” Wisbrun told reporters on the sidelines of the Skyteam lounge opening at Sydney Airport on Friday.
“We go for the improved collaboration within the network more than making the network bigger.”
And in the context of Australia, Wisbrun says it is “unlikely” the alliance will be adding a carrier from this part of the world, given Qantas’s position in oneworld and Virgin Australia’s series of partnerships and alliances with the likes of Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Etihad and Delta, among others.
That leaves the seven Skyteam carriers that currently fly to Australia free to pursue bilateral relationships in order to extend their reach in Oceania through interlines and codeshares.
Skyteam carriers China Eastern, China Southern and Vietnam Airlines have codeshare partnerships with Qantas. Moreover, China Eastern and the Flying Kangaroo have applied to the competition regulator for a joint-venture alliance on Australia-China routes.
Meanwhile, Virgin and Delta are partners on trans-Pacific routes and the pair have recently lodged an application to renew their alliance.
“Qantas is part of oneworld and Virgin Australia is in its concept going along with some shareholders,” Wisbrun said.
“It is not realistic to assume there will be a Skyteam member here in Australia.
“That does not mean that our members are not working together with some Australian airlines.
“You need beyond connections and those are organised via bilateral and our members are fully flexible and free to do so.”
The air services agreement between China and Australia was recently expanded, providing extra capacity for both Chinese and Australian carriers.
The boost to capacity was expected to result in increased flights to Australia from Chinese carriers.
Wisbrun said the new Sydney lounge, designed to cater for 140 passengers, would be able to handle the mooted extra flights given any new services were likely to be spread out of the course of the day.
“It will be at different times,” Wisbrun said.
“So you make more efficient use of the resource you already have.”
Wisbrun said he expected Alitalia to remain a member of Skyteam despite Etihad Airways’ recent move to purchase 49 per cent of the loss-making Italian flag carrier, citing its reliance on the joint-venture partnership with Air France/KLM and Delta on trans-Atlantic routes.
“It is extremely wise for them to continue to be in that joint-venture,” Wisbrun said.
“Stepping out is no alternative as there is no way to compete on the North Atlantic as a stand alone airline unless you are part of a bigger group.”
Alitalia was one of seven carriers that signed up to the Etihad Airways Partners airline partnership.