NEW YORK (
) -- The Oneworld alliance is getting a makeover that includes a veteran airline executive at its helm and a move to Park Avenue.
During a 23-year airline career, Bruce Ashby, a trilingual 49-year-old Stanford graduate, has been a top executive at
and has also worked at
Ashby will return to the U.S. after five and a half years abroad,
heading India's Indigo Airlines and Saudi Arabia's SAMA. He presided over the successful star-tup of the former; the latter failed in September.
Meanwhile, Oneworld's headquarters will leave Vancouver, B.C., next summer after 10 years and move to 2 Park Ave., also the New York office for Oneworld members including
The move reflects the increasing importance of the three global alliances, spurred this year by regulatory approval of three key partnerships that combine major U.S. carriers with counterparts in Europe and Japan. The partnerships enable multiple carriers to act as one on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes, which generally constitute the industry's most profitable operations.
The three big U.S. carriers -- American, Delta and United -- each anchor an alliance: Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star, respectively. A principal strength of Oneworld, whose members also include
Japan Air Lines
, is that it dominates one of world aviation's prized routes, New York to London Heathrow.
While it seems clear that being based in New York will give Oneworld more visibility than it had in Vancouver, Ashby is aware that the public generally has little awareness of alliances.
The alliance concept "doesn't grab people," he acknowledged. "What makes them aware is when they actually fly and need to go somewhere they don't usually go. For instance, if I am going to Tokyo, I can take American and/or JAL, and my frequent flier miles apply on both, and I can use either one's lounge -- that experience makes people aware of alliances.
"If you talk to people who have done that, who feel like 'I was taken care of for the whole trip, I would like to (travel) that way again' --- that is what I would like to have people experience."
Because alliances generally operate in a business-to-business environment, the necessary leadership skills are largely diplomatic. Oneworld includes 14 existing or designated member airlines: Ashby must serve their joint interests. "It's a job in which you can't dictate anything to anybody," he said. "You can (only) bring information to people and ask for enlightened decisions to be made."
A key benefit of being in New York is that 10 of the 14 Oneworld members fly to at least one New York airport. Ashby seems well suited for the job. His experience in India and Saudi Arabia gives him a global perspective, while his tenure at US Airways included oversight of alliance relationships, In the early 2000s, the carrier negotiated with all three before electing to join Star.
Ashby declined to comment on the occasional suggestions that
US Airways might be better off moving to Oneworld.
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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