Royal Air Maroc to join Oneworld airline alliance, giving group a foothold in Africa

Key Points
  • Royal Air Maroc is set to become the latest member of the Oneworld alliance.
  • The Moroccan airline gives the global alliance, which includes American and British Airways, an African partner.
  • The new addition comes as other African carriers, including Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways have expanded.
Passengers board a Royal Air Maroc plane. 
Getty Images

The Oneworld global airline alliance that includes American Airlines and British Airways, said Wednesday that it is bringing in Royal Air Maroc, giving the group a partner in Africa after other carriers on the continent expanded.

Such alliances allow carriers to book travelers on each others' routes, giving them access to other markets. They also allow travelers to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles on each others' flights.

Royal Air Maroc, the flag carrier of Morocco, has a fleet of 55 planes and serves 94 destinations — tiny compared with several of the Oneworld members. Its addition, however, gives the alliance a foothold in Africa, where other airlines have aligned with its competitors and are expanding. Ethiopian Airlines, for instance, is part of the Star Alliance along with United Airlines. Kenya Airways has worked with Delta Air Lines in the SkyTeam and expanded into the U.S. in recent years.

Royal Air Maroc's membership will likely take effect in mid-2020, said Oneworld, the smallest of the three major alliances. Other members of Oneworld include Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Latam.

Airlines around the world in recent years have been fostering stronger partnerships with other airlines as they seek to expand but face strong foreign ownership limits or cost constraints to growing in other regions. Carriers including the biggest three U.S. airlines — Delta, United and American — have been pursuing additional joint ventures that allow them to coordinate schedules and share revenue with foreign carriers.

Last week, for example, United said it reached a deal for a joint venture with Colombia's Avianca Holdings and Panama-based Copa Holdings.

The new addition to Oneworld comes after alliance member Qatar Airways threatened in October to leave the group.

Royal Air Maroc will give Oneworld access to its robust intra-Africa service as well as a robust network in Europe and some trans-Atlantic service, the alliance's CEO Rob Gurney told CNBC.

Royal Air Maroc currently serves Montreal, Washington D.C. and New York and plans to add service to Miami, an American Airlines hub, next spring. The airline is set to receive new Boeing 787-900s this month and plans to add new service from Casablanca to the U.S. in the coming years, but it has not yet settled on which cities, its CEO Abdelhamid Addou told CNBC.

While Royal Air Maroc plans to fly to Beijing when the Chinese capital's new airport is complete, a larger expansion in Asia isn't likely because there is a lot of competition, Addou said.

In addition to targeting business travelers and Moroccans who are living abroad or visiting friends and family, airline executives plan to capitalize on Morocco's increasing popularity with tourists. The country received close to 5.9 million foreign tourists last year, up 15 percent from 2016 and up 19 percent from 2010, according to Moroccan government figures.

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