Air Comet and Aerolineas could join Spanair in Star

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Spain's Marsans Group is eyeing potential membership in the Star Alliance for its subsidiaries Air Comet and Aerolineas Argentinas and a long-haul operation for acquisition target Spanair.

Marsans owner Gonzalo Pascual Arias says he would like to see Spanair re-enter the long-haul market if he succeeds in acquiring the carrier from SAS Group. SAS in June unveiled plans to sell its 94.9% share in Spanair and in a prelude to the sale purchased the 5.1% stake held by Marsans.

"Spanair is a feeding system but it shouldn't necessarily only be a feeding company," Pascual told Airline Business in an interview at June's Paris air show. "We want to make it much bigger."

Palma de Mallorca-based Spanair now operates flights within Spain and to several European destinations with a fleet of about 60 narrowbodies. Pascual, who is already Spanair's president, says he is preparing to make an offer for 100% of the carrier's shares but says other companies are also free to submit bids. Marsans has hinted it may bid for oneworld member Iberia, which is currently being courted by a consortium led by US investment firm Texas Pacific and British Airways, if its attempt to buy Spanair fails.

Pascual plans to keep Spanair in Star and would also be interested in bringing Marsans subsidiaries Air Comet and Aerolineas Argentinas into the alliance. "Star Alliance is a good asset not only for Spanair but also the group," Pascual says. "If Star Alliance is good for Spanair it should be good for the entire group."

Star has been looking for a new member in South America since early this year following the withdrawal of Brazilian carrier Varig. Gol has since acquired Varig and in July signed an interline deal with Aerolineas.

Air Comet, a Madrid-based leisure carrier which earlier this year took over several Latin American routes from defunct carrier Air Madrid, and Aerolineas Argentinas already operate widebodies. Marsans last year placed an order for at least 12 and up to 22 additional Airbus A330s which will be used to expand both Air Madrid and Aerolineas, and now potentially Spanair. Several years ago Spanair operated long-haul routes to North America with a small Boeing 767 fleet but SAS decided to take Spanair out of the competitive transatlantic market.

Pascual says the Marsans travel group now generates about €4.5 billion ($6.2 billion) in revenues annually with 40% or about $2.5 billion coming from Air Comet, Aerolineas and Argentinean domestic carrier Austral. Spanair would add about another $1.5 billion in annual revenues to Marsans' portfolio.