The chief of the Oneworld airline alliance, which counts Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways as a member, has said that relations among carriers in the group are strong despite exit rumours and infighting.
Rob Gurney, CEO of the alliance, made the comments at an event marking Oneworld’s 20th anniversary in London earlier this month, amid speculation member Qatar Airways would leave the group, as it feuds with Qantas and American Airlines over flight routes.
Qatar’s investment in 13 potential partners of the alliance has also sparked concern about the company tightening its grip on the group. The Middle Eastern carrier holds stakes in Cathay Pacific and the International Airlines Group, which controls British Airways and Spanish airline Iberia.
Oneworld, which represents Cathay, British Airways, American and Qantas, rolls out tech upgrades ‘to stay relevant’
Gurney, however, said he was relaxed about the often fraught relations among members, and dismissed the idea that the Doha-based carrier was able to exert more influence through its stakes in fellow airlines.
“There are going to be misalignments of views and conflict and disagreements from time to time. The majority of our member airlines are competing against each other in one form or another,” he said. “Of course there are debates but you don’t get good outcomes without robust debate.
“It is highly collegiate. There’s a fantastic working culture among the airlines.”
There’s a fantastic working culture among the airlines
Rob Gurney, Oneworld CEO
Disagreeing that airlines were jostling to exert influence over each other in the group, he said: “I don’t see any evidence of that whatsoever.”
Qatar Air also has shares in South America’s LatAm Airlines and recently added a 5 per cent stake in prospective member China Southern Airlines. With holdings in member carriers, in theory this allows it to control almost half the voting rights in the group, according to two sources familiar with the Oneworld governance set-up.
But Malaysia Airlines, which is not among those with stakes held by Qatar, said the carrier’s investments within the alliance were good for the group.
“If you have more airlines with cross-equity, isn’t it better for the family?” Suresh Singam, Malaysia Airlines’ manager for alliance matters, said. “We talk, we discuss and have side discussions. But we come to an understanding about what is good for the collective.”
If you have more airlines with cross-equity, isn’t it better for the family?
Suresh Singam, Malaysia Airlines manager
Responding to the question about dominance and influence, Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker told the Post he did not think any single airline was asserting itself. “No airline has control of Oneworld,” he said, adding that his company “will not accept any airline controlling us”.
Gurney made clear that airlines within the group had to play their part actively. “I think the influence of the airlines comes through the contribution they make at the management and governing board. And that’s the way it should be.”
Qatar’s Al Baker had caused intrigue before the event after initially not accepting – at least publicly – an invitation, fanning the media narrative that his airline had lost patience with Oneworld after publicly warring with fellow members.
Alliance members were represented by their CEOs or senior management at the London gathering.
Qatar has not come to a decision on whether to quit the alliance, but if it does, the move would have a big impact on the spending decisions of travellers in aspects such as the claiming of air miles on its flights as a member of Oneworld.
Al Baker signalled he was open to more talks with other members but backed off from the suggestion that his company would exit the group.
“We will be here as long as we can speak together and see if we can resolve issues and differences that we have,” he said. “Only after that will we decide what to do.”
Oneworld also said China Southern Airlines would not join the alliance. According to Gurney, there were “no plans” for the carrier, China’s biggest, to become a member.
Apart from Qatar, American also has stakes in the airline, while Finnair and British Airways have signed deals with China Southern after it quit rival Skyteam alliance.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Airline alliance Oneworld, which represents Cathay Pacific, British Airways, American Airlines and Qantas, rolls out tech upgrades ‘to stay relevant’
- Leave if you’re not happy, Qantas CEO tells Qatar Airways in response to Oneworld exit threats
- Oneworld confirms it has sounded out China Southern Airlines to join the alliance, potentially giving Cathay Pacific regional competition
- Alliance with China Southern in Oneworld ‘could help Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific’