US Airways Move to OneWorld Brings Qatar Airlines to Philly

PHILADELPHIA ( TheStreet) -- Qatar Airways said it will fly to Philadelphia, apparently the first move by an international airline to better position itself in an aviation world that would be reshaped by the proposed merger between US Airways ( LCC) and American ( AAMRQ.PK).

Qatar will become the first foreign flag carrier to begin service to Philadelphia International Airport in more than a decade.

Qatar said in October that it will join the Oneworld Alliance. US Airways, currently a member of Star, has said it will join Oneworld as a result of the merger with American, already a member. Philadelphia is US Airways' principal trans-Atlantic hub. With a merger, "Philadelphia becomes a bigger player in a bigger airline," US Airways CEO Doug Parker told reporters in Charlotte in March.

Qatar CEO Akbar al-Baker said Monday that Doha-Philadelphia service will begin in March 2014 aboard a Boeing 777 aircraft. Philadelphia will become Qatar's sixth North American destination. Service to Chicago began last month. Qatar also flies from Doha. Qatar's capital, to Houston, Montreal, New York and Washington.

"Philadelphia is one of the major hubs of the soon-to-be-merged American Airlines / US Airways and will provide Qatar Airways' customers with onward connections to over 100 cities across the US," al-Baker said in a press release.

"With the implementation of code share agreements with American Airlines and JetBlue ( JBLU) which offer numerous connections beyond our US gateways," he said. "Qatar Airways is making big strides to strengthen its presence in the United States ... Joining the Oneworld global alliance later this year will also present tremendous travel options and benefits to our passengers and to those of partner carriers in the alliance."

Already, Qatar and US Airways are partners in a codeshare agreement that enables them to write tickets on each other's connecting flights and share frequent flier benefits.

"Oneworld is delighted to see our member-elect Qatar Airways continue its fast-track expansion, adding another attractive US gateway to its network, further strengthening the value it will add to the alliance when it joins later this year," said Oneworld spokesman Michael Blunt.

At Philadelphia International, Qatar will become the fourth foreign flag carrier, joining Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa. Doha will be the second middle eastern destination: US Airways currently serves Tel Aviv. "We're very excited that Qatar is going to start flights in 2014," said airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica.

The move also reflects the intense competition between three rapidly expanding, well-financed Gulf carriers, including Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi and Dubai-based Emirates. "Qatar, Emirates and Etihad continue to grow and have run out of larger US gateways," said aviation consultant Sandy Rederer. The three, financed by oil wealth, have been seen as industry outliers that are able to undercut other carriers, particularly European airlines, in offering lower-cost worldwide connections through their hubs. So far, Qatar is the only one of the three to join an alliance.

Global alliance politics will likely result in additional re-positioning by airlines as the merger gains expected approval and begins to take shape. Oneworld CEO Bruce Ashby has said that all three US Airways hubs -- Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix -- present attractive options for various Oneworld members, particularly British Airways, Iberia and LAN. In particular, he said that LAN, which has its busiest hub in Lima, could be interested in serving Phoenix, which offers connections to 65 domestic destinations.

At the same time, Star members flying to US Airways hubs may choose to re-evaluate. For instance, Rederer said, "It's hard to see how Lufthansa can be profitable in Charlotte after the merger." He added that continued Lufthansa service to Philadelphia "might be tough as well."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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