China Southern will be leaving the Skyteam airline alliance next year, following a decision not to renew its contract from January 1, 2019 onwards.

Skyteam confirmed the airline’s decision in a statement issued today, saying that the airline and alliance will continue to work together throughout 2019 to “ensure a seamless transition for all customers and partners”.

This process is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

China Southern, meanwhile, announced its decision on its official Weibo social media page.

Speculation has been rife for months that China Southern may be seeking an exit from Skyteam, particularly following its sale in March last year of 270 million shares to rival Oneworld alliance member, American Airlines.

According to the Skyteam statement, China Southern’s decision “reflects its strategic development, the changing trends and the global aviation industry and the evolution of alliances”.

Speaking about the announcement, Skyteam’s CEO Kristin Colvile, said: “Network has always been the foundation of Skyteam. Our new value proposition retains that strong integrated network and combines it with our continued focus on improving customer experience through technology.

“China Southern has been a valued member of Skyteam. We respect its decision and wish it well.”

China Southern has made no mention of its intentions to join a rival alliance, though a move over to Oneworld would seem like the more strategically sound considering its growing ties with American Airlines.

Such a move could create pressure for Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific, as having China’s largest carrier just across the border in Guangzhou would see the two carriers compete for traffic, particularly on routes connecting China with long-haul destinations.