The Star Alliance has set a new target of 2015 for Air India to join its ranks following a unanimous vote by member airlines to restart the process of integrating the Indian flag carrier. The alliance suspended integration in 2011 on grounds that Air India had “not met minimum joining conditions agreed in December 2007.” With signs of stability and fleet rationalization, however, Star has agreed to give Air India a second chance.
“When we stopped integration, we thought Air India needed more time for its merger and preparation for its future growth and development…We feel the time has come,” Star Alliance official Markus Ruediger told AIN. “As was said at the Star board meeting held in Vienna [on December 13], changes in Air India are pointing in the right direction.”
In the past few years, the advent of aggressive Arabian Gulf carriers and Jet Airways’ venture with the UAE’s Etihad Airways has taken a large chunk of business from European carriers.
As a member of the Star Alliance, Air India will offer a global integrated network, “beneficial for both sides,” said Rohit Nandan, Air India chairman and managing director.
“Sharing of best practices between members on fuel and operational issues are benefits to be got from the alliance,” said Ruediger. Mutual benefit might also come from lessons learned by Star members facing recent Boeing 787 reliability problems, an Air India official told AIN.
At the time of the suspension of Air India’s integration, airline information technology consultant SITA had completed part of a $190 million migration of Air India and Indian Airlines’ IT systems—Unisys and Speedwing—to a single code. The migration marked a step toward aligning processes and systems of the two airlines, a requirement for Air India’s entry into Star. In addition to the core passenger services suite, SITA agreed to implement an online booking engine, departure control system, check-in and automated boarding control, baggage reconciliation system and a frequent-flier system.
Some work still needs to be done. “Customer service levels might not necessarily be on par,” said Ruediger. “We are working with Air India on this.”