Egyptair joins Star Alliance

10 Jul 2008 by Mark Caswell

Egyptair has become Star’s 21st member and has announced plans to go to a two-class service on board its forthcoming 777-300 aircraft.

Having signed an agreement to join Star Alliance back in October 2007, the north-east African carrier officially joined the fold today, having completed its integration in just nine months, a record for a new-member carrier.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Jaan Albrecht, CEO of Star Alliance, said: “A few years ago we invited South African Airways to join our alliance. This left an open spot in the north-eastern area of Africa – Egyptair covers this ‘white spot’ and brings 11 unique destinations to this part of the world.”

Albrecht added that the forthcoming opening of the new TB3 terminal at Cairo this November would bring easier transiting for passengers connecting to the Middle East and the rest of Africa. Once the terminal is open, all Star Alliance carriers serving Cairo will move into it as part of the alliance’s “move under one roof” strategy. The first flight from the new building will be an Egyptair service to New York.

Alongside Egyptair’s inauguration into Star, the carrier has unveiled a newer, fresher look to its Horus livery (named after the ancient Eyptian God of the Sky), and also announced the addition of eight new 777-300 aircraft to its fleet. Four of these will be delivered in 2010 (with another two in 2011 and two in 2013), and with them will come a new two-class configuration on board, with 49 angled lie-flat seats in business class and 291 seats in economy. This compares with the current 777-200 layout of 12 first class and 21 business class seats (neither being lie-flat), and 286 in economy.

It’s unclear when passengers will get to see this new aircraft on the London-Cairo route – the airline said it would look to increase the frequency of flights between the two cities before switching to the new planes.

Egyptair remains, at present, a dry airline (although recent comments on our forum suggest that the carrier tolerates alcohol being brought on board by customers). However, the state-owned (but self-financed) carrier said it was “trying hard” to introduce the serving of alcoholic beverages on board, as “our customers are requesting it”.

Regarding a possible move to Heathrow Terminal 1 (Egyptair currently uses Terminal 3 for its London flights) to join the other Star carriers gradually migrating under one roof, the airline said it was currently “studying the possibility, and calculating the costs and benefits” of such a switch.

The next two airlines to join Star are likely to be Air India and Continental (see online news June 20), although the alliance refused to be drawn on an exact timetable.

Air India signed an agreement to join Star in December 2007, but has faced “ a series of challenges”, according to Marcus Puffer, director of network and business development at Star. He said: “There has been the challenge of merging two airlines [Air India and Indian Airlines], and questions on infrastructure at the airports and on the technical side need to be answered, as well as IT systems being harmonised. It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity – we’re in the early phases of planning and it won’t happen in the next nine months.”

Continental is due to move from Skyteam to Star Alliance following its framework agreement with United Airlines – the switchover is a situation which Horst Findeisen, vice-president of business development, described as “unique”.

Findeisen also commented on moves to fill Star’s current “white spot” in South America. (Brazilian carrier Varig was a member of Star until the carrier was ejected in January 2007 following bankruptcy proceedings.) Findeisen said Star was “looking, more than looking, so please stay tuned”.

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, Marcus Puffer said there were currently “no applications on the table from any other Arab carriers”.

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Report by Mark Caswell

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