China Southern Airlines, one of China's largest air carriers, said on Thursday it had become the 11th full member of the global airline alliance, Skyteam.
China Southern Airlines is the first domestic air carrier to join such a global alliance.
With the addition of China Southern Airlines, Skyteam, which also has three associate members, will carry about 428 million passengers annually through a worldwide system of 16,400 daily flights to 841 destinations in 162 countries.
"We are excited to welcome China Southern Airlines into our network. This move allows us to offer our customers unparalleled access to the markets they want to reach," said Leo van Wijk, chairman of the Skyteam Governing Board, in a press release.
"China Southern Airlines' membership strengthens the alliance's position in serving the world's fastest growing markets."
The addition of China Southern will bolster the alliance's global hub network, since the airline is the first carrier in China to operate its own terminal at Beijing Capital International Airport, one of China's busiest hubs.
China Southern is the nation's largest airline in terms of fleet size, flights and passenger traffic. It operates more than 600 domestic and international routes serving 152 cities.
The chairman of China Southern, Liu Shaoyong, who attended the Beijing ceremony to mark the Skyteam membership, said the alliance would help the carrier accelerate its progress toward internationalization and promote its development.
"China Southern will make use of Skyteam's network to expand cooperation with all its members and better serve customers," Liu said.
The airline said that Chinese passengers would be able to get information at any of Skyteam's more than 2,100 ticket offices worldwide for normal travel arrangements, as well as discounts offered by Skyteam.
International passengers can obtain flight and travel assistance from any member airline of Skyteam.
"We fully support airlines joining global alliances, which will help the industry to upgrade expertise, management and service quality," said Yang Yuanyuan, head of the General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC).
He said such alliances would also promote the internationalization of the Chinese aviation industry.
China is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. The administration plans to open up all domestic air routes by 2010. Airlines will no longer need approval for new domestic flights; they will only have to submit plans to add services.
Air China, another major domestic carrier, is scheduled to join the Star Alliance next month.
Skyteam, one of the three major civil aviation alliances in the world, has eleven full members: Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air France, Alitalia, China Southern Airlines, Continental Airlines, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air and Northwest Airlines.
Its three associate members are Air Europa (Spain), Copa Airlines (Panama) and Kenya Airways.