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Tue 1 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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Who next?

RJ is in oneworld, but will any other local carrier join an alliance?

|~||~||~|Congratulations to Royal Jordanian for its invitation to join oneworld. Considering that the airline was a basketcase not so long ago, the offer of membership is clear proof of the turnaround that has been achieved over the last few years. That BA, American Airlines and others feel that RJ’s service and reliability levels are up to global standards is a compliment to everyone at the airline. oneworld also jealously guards its reputation as a club for profitable airlines; that RJ has been invited in is further evidence of its success.

The big question though is what the other alliances will now do in the region. SkyTeam has long been talking to MEA about becoming a member or affiliate, but there is little sign of any progress. The RJ deal may re-invigorate these talks, but that is not certain.

Beyond MEA, it is hard to see which other Middle East airline could and would want to join an alliance. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, for instance, have all long since dismissed the idea of joining, and considering the huge amount of long-haul capacity they would bring, it is unlikely that any alliance would want them anyway.

Most of the smaller players, meanwhile, do not have the required service levels to join an alliance and they would add little. The groupings already have daily flights into the region’s capitals, and what they really want is links to secondary cities. RJ will give oneworld this, particularly once it gets its regional jets, but few other Middle East airlines currently have a comprehensive local network. When Saudia gets its Embraers, it might be able to do the same, but alliances will certainly raise questions about its onboard offerings. Gulf Air is a possibility, but its local network is not that strong and it has other issues to deal with at present. The only real candidate therefore is Oman Air, which, at least, perceives itself as a regional carrier. However, size may count against it.||**||

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