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SkyTeam chairman Leo van Wijk recently spoke with BTN senior
editor Jay Boehmer about the airline alliance's progress in centralizing its
management structure, the move toward deeper joint venture cooperation among
members and plans for collocation at airports across the globe.
happened since SkyTeam became incorporated as a centralized organization in
April last year?
Leo Van Wijk: We
just reviewed with the governing board in New York the progress that we've made
with the new central office. I think everybody is satisfied. It has brought
more focus, it's accelerated the processes and the best example is that we have
been very active in recruiting new partners and bringing them online. But there
are other areas that we still need to focus: to develop IT, to increase the
productivity between the airlines, to develop new products. I think we can see
and say the central office has brought more focus and speed into the process.
BTN: What kind of
IT developments are on tap?
Van Wijk: We have
been looking at, and certainly with the increasing number of new members,
making sure we have the right technology to connect these carriers to each
other. Historically, we've been using what I would call the hard-wired
structures, which are relatively inflexible and have to be done over and over
again with every new carrier. We've investigated in the past year and a half
and concluded recently that an open architecture is the way to go forward. We
have decided at our meeting in New York that we will use this architecture,
have a test case to implement that in the course of 2011 and that we will use
that going forward as a flexible way to connect the members for all the IT
exchanged in a more closely knit network.
BTN: In what
areas would the open architecture apply?
Van Wijk: In the
exchange of frequent flyer miles, to do checks on lounge access and mileage
upgrades. The open architecture will be a more dynamic way to interact between
carriers and can be used for multiple purposes.
building that for you?
Van Wijk: For the
first test case, we are talking to a technology provider, but we haven't
concluded a deal yet.
said they're going to join the Air France-KLM-Delta joint venture. Do you see
more SkyTeam carriers going the joint venture route?
Alitalia is working with Air France-KLM and Delta to be incorporated in the
joint venture. That is not necessarily a SkyTeam responsibility, but under the
umbrella of SkyTeam, some of the members are becoming more interested to learn
about the joint venture structure. Even though it's not something that's
immediately around the corner, we are exchanging similar ideas with the other
members, including the Chinese, to see whether we could follow the same path as
BTN: Right now it's
focused on the transatlantic, but do you think SkyTeam carriers can replicate
the joint venture model in other regions?
Van Wijk: In the
further development of the airline industry on a global scale, I can see the effectiveness
of mergers on a continent. I see the difficulty and complexity of striking
intercontinental mergers, and against that background, there is an excellent
alternative, which avoids the complexities but to a large extent generates the
same benefits. That is the joint venture structure. We definitely see that as
the way forward. SkyTeam as a whole has definitely the ambition to become more
closely knit together, and the joint venture structure certainly helps to
achieve that without the complexities. It can be expanded to other parts of the
world. There is no magic to the transatlantic, other than that's just where it
started. KLM and Northwest experienced it, implemented it, developed it and now
extended it to Delta and Air France, and then in the near future, Alitalia.
BTN: You said
that SkyTeam carriers are collocating at a rate of about six airports a year.
Are there some U.S. airports in that queue?
Van Wijk: We have
selected another six airports to work on. Although it's not immediately on that
list, we're looking into collocation at JFK, particularly as Delta is trying to
improve its position in New York.
carriers are under quite a few different roofs at JFK.
Van Wijk: Delta
is working very hard to come to an agreement with the Port Authority of New
York & New Jersey to create a longer-term plan in which SkyTeam would be
collocated in the greater Delta terminal area, which would encompass I think
Terminals 2, 3 and 4. Airport collocation is aimed at two things: cost
reduction by sharing joint services as well as creating greater visibility to
BTN: Are you
eyeing collocation at any other airports?
Van Wijk: We are
in discussions with the Beijing Airport authorities. That is one of the
airports where the combination of China Eastern and China Southern, combined
with the other non-Chinese carriers, could create a significant presence
without having a gateway function there.
BTN: What's your
outlook on corporate revenue and traffic this year?
Van Wijk: It
looks more positive. Asia is more buoyant than Europe, and the United States is
kind of in the middle. Intercontinental business traffic is picking up nicely;
continental developments are more in line with what I said: more strength in
Asia, quite good in the United States, but not as good yet in Europe.
This story originally
appeared in the July 12, 2010, issue of Business Travel News.