Qatar Airways has confirmed speculation circulating last week that it is to become the first Gulf carrier to join the British Airways-backed Oneworld alliance.
The airline will be second member airline based in the Middle East, alongside Royal Jordanian, which joined in 2007.
The move comes as BA seeks out a new partner to replace joint services being dropped by Qantas to Asia and Australia.
The Doha-based airline’s membership of the alliance is expected to take between 12 and 18 months to complete.
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said: “Alliances are playing an increasingly important role in the airline industry today – and that will continue long into the future.
“Qatar Airways has carefully reviewed its strategic options and it is very clear that joining Oneworld is by far the best way forward for us as we look to strengthen our competitive offering and give passengers what they fully deserve – more choice.”
“In Qatar Airways’ relatively short history, we have quickly established a reputation for innovation, quality and excellence in everything we do, raising standards which our industry peers have watched with envy. We are pleased to build on that by becoming the only major airline from the Gulf to date to be invited to join any of the global airline alliances.”
The carrier is due to move into a new base in 2013 with the opening of a new Doha International Airport, designed to strengthen its position as a global hub with an eventual capacity for 50 million passengers a year. Opportunities for increasing the alliance’s services to Doha will be explored as the airline prepares to join.
Oneworld chief executive Bruce Ashby said: “The big three Gulf carriers have been embraced by millions of consumers the world over – just as consumers have embraced global airline alliances.
“Our own analysis clearly demonstrated that Qatar Airways is the best fit for Oneworld’s network, requirements, philosophy and strategy.”
Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA and Iberia parent International Airlines Group, said: “In Qatar Airways, Oneworld is pleased to welcome another great airline that will enhance Oneworld’s network and product offerings in one of the world’s fastest growing regions for air travel demand.
“Its fine reputation for customer service mirrors Oneworld’s own focus. British Airways is delighted to be serving as the sponsor of Qatar Airways in joining Oneworld.”
The addition of the airline will increase the alliance’s global coverage to 856 destinations in 159 countries, served by a combined fleet of 2,600 aircraft operating carrying almost a million passengers a day and generating annual revenues of almost $120 billion.
Qatar Airways’ network covers 120 destinations in 70 countries in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, North and South America, Asia and Australasia.