The oneworld global alliance has introduced a new tier of membership, with Fiji Airways becoming the first oneworld connect partner.


Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney and CEOs of member airlines, speaking to media June 3 on the eve of IATA AGM in Sydney, said the oneworld connect model will enable the 20-year-old alliance to fill white spaces around the globe with airlines that may not necessarily have the size, capabilities or desire to become full members.


“The program has been designed to be as flexible as possible,” Gurney explained. “We think it’s a very scalable model and it’s designed to be that.”


Finnair CEO Pekka Vauramo, oneworld’s governing board chairman, added: “In the future, we expect most of the member airlines to come into the alliance as ‘oneworld connect’ … We are progressing in talks with other airlines from various parts of the world that are interested in the program, including in the Americas and Asia.”


Fiji and other airlines wanting to be oneworld connect members will have to meet basic requirements, such as being IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) compliant and having the sponsorship of at least three full oneworld members, but will not have to go through the stringent process involved in becoming a full member. Oneworld connect members could gain a “streamlined and rapid path to full membership” in the future “where it makes sense for all parties,” Gurney said.


Fiji, which is being sponsored by oneworld founding members American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, would add nine airports in the South Pacific to oneworld’s map. Fiji and future oneworld connect partners’ passengers will have access to oneworld priority check-in and priority boarding where available. Additional benefits, such as reciprocal frequent flyer benefits, will be determined on a bilateral basis between Fiji and its sponsoring airlines.


American, Qantas and Cathay already codeshare with Fiji, and British Airways and Fiji are in discussions regarding potential bilateral cooperation, according to oneworld. Qantas first purchased an ownership stake in Fiji in 1958 and currently owns 46% of the airline, which is 51% state-owned.


“The global alliances will need to continue to evolve if they want to remain relevant in this fast-changing industry, and that’s exactly what oneworld is doing here today,” said Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways parent International Airlines Group. He added that long-haul LCCs could “have a role to play” in oneworld’s future via the connect program. “If the industry is changing in that direction, oneworld will look to see whether [adding a long-haul LCC] benefits us,” Walsh said. “We have to be flexible enough to respond to these opportunities.”


Fiji “achieves a greater presence for our airline internationally” by becoming a oneworld connect member, Fiji Airways CEO Andre Viljoen said, calling the South Pacific “one of the world’s final frontiers” in terms of global airline connectivity. He said being a oneworld connect member will include getting advice on fleet renewal decisions from Fiji’s oneworld sponsor airlines. Cooperation with those airlines “may well [take the form of] joint ventures” in the future, Viljoen added.


Fiji, which will place a oneworld connect logo on its aircraft, serves 21 destinations in 13 countries and territories. Its route network already includes oneworld hubs Sydney, Los Angeles and Hong Kong.


Fiji and its regional subsidiary Fiji Link operate 18 aircraft, including five Airbus A330s, five Boeing 737NGs and eight turboprops (a mix of ATR 72s, ATR 42s and DHC6-Twin Otters). It expects to receive its sixth A330 and its first 737-8 later this year.


Fiji carried 1.6 million passengers in 2017 and earned a $38 million net profit on $452 million in revenue. It has 1,300 employees.

Aaron Karp/Aviation Daily,