As the CEOs of the 13 member airlines of Oneworld gathered in New York for the year-end meeting of the alliance’s governing board, the grouping unveiled Royal Air Maroc (RAM) as its first full new member-elect in more than five years and its first prospective full member based in Africa.
Plans call for RAM’s induction in mid-2020, giving the Moroccan flag carrier the 18 months it needs to fully integrate IT and communication systems and frequent flier programs with all the partners, RAM CEO Abdelhamid Addou explained. RAM already codeshares with Oneworld members Iberia, Qatar Airways, and S7 Airlines, and alliance members British Airways, Iberia, and Qatar Airways together serve RAM’s Casablanca hub along with Marrakech and Tangier.
Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney told reporters in New York that the alliance’s induction of Royal Air Maroc marked the first conducted under a new process that does away with the need for any existing Oneworld member carrier to serve as an overseeing sponsor. Instead, said Gurney, Oneworld’s “central alliance team” of managers will oversee RAM’s induction, helping it complete the integration of its systems and service standards with those of all the other members and freeing up the alliance’s carriers to concentrate on their own businesses. Gurney noted that the 13 existing full Oneworld member carriers unanimously agreed to invite RAM to join the alliance.
Gurney named several reasons for its interest in RAM’s inclusion, perhaps most notably its potential to fill “a clear gap” in terms of network coverage. “The timing is absolutely right for us and for RAM,” said Gurney, who highlighted RAM’s position in Casablanca and its coming service transformation program. Addou said the program begins as early as next Tuesday when the airline receives the first of four Boeing 787-9s it has ordered. Although RAM already operates five 787-8s, all of its 787-9s will come fitted with a new cabin interior design, as will four 737 Max 8s on order.
RAM’s business transformation also includes substantial planned fleet and network growth, to add to what Addou said already ranked as the most comprehensive Africa-Europe route network offered by any African airline. RAM serves “nearly fifty” destinations in Europe, according to Addou. While the airline carried 7.3 million passengers in 2017 using a fleet of 55 aircraft and served 94 destinations in 49 countries, within five years it plans to transport 13 million passengers a year, operating a much larger fleet and serving 121 destinations in 68 countries. The growth would add 15 new destinations and nine countries to Oneworld’s overall network, increasing the alliance’s reach to 1,084 destinations in 187 countries.
A major part of RAM’s growth strategy calls for a continuing increase in connectivity options at Casablanca. This process begins in a few weeks when RAM moves all of its operations at Casablanca’s Mohamed V International Airport into a completely rebuilt Terminal 1. Not only will the newly upgraded terminal allow RAM to operate a modern-day transfer hub at Casablanca, it also will host the Casablanca operations of RAM’s Oneworld partners serving the airport, according to Addou.
Oneworld’s delight in announcing RAM as its prospective first full African member remains tempered by the alliance’s uncertainty over the future of Qatar Airways as a fellow member. Commenting on recent statements by Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker critical of American Airlines and Qantas and threats by the Doha-based carrier to leave Oneworld, Gurney maintained a diplomatic tone. “The reality of alliances is that there is not always going to be 100 percent alignment between partners,” he said. “Obviously we would prefer to have Qatar Airways remain in the alliance, but each [member airline] needs to have its own … priorities, and we respect that.”
Separately, Oneworld on Wednesday revealed that Fiji Airways began flying that day as the first partner airline in the new Oneworld Connect membership platform. The carrier’s first of five 737 Max 8s on order is the first Fiji Airways aircraft to sport the Oneworld Connect logo.