CSA joins SkyTeam as Aeroflot and Alitalia wait in wings

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CSA/Czech Airlines has agreed to become the fifth member of the Air France/Delta Air Lines-led SkyTeam global alliance, while talks on the recruitment of Aeroflot and Alitalia continue - although Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato has hinted that the latter's preferred partner is Swissair.

CSA will join SkyTeam next April, in a new deal which nullifies existing codeshares between the Czech carrier and Continental Airlines, and between Delta and Malev. The Hungarian airline had hoped to join SkyTeam but was rejected, apparently because of its weak financial performance.

Air France president Jean-Cyril Spinetta says the alliance "is disposed" to take a 15% stake in CSA. Due to be privatised in 2002, CSA now operates a 23-strong all-western aircraft fleet. It transported 2 million passengers in 1999 and made a net profit of $2.8 million.

Spinetta says talks are continuing on the addition of Aeroflot to SkyTeam, which was formed in June and also includes Korean Air and Aeromexico. The alliance will also target Thai Airways Inter-national when it is part-privatised.

Amato, speaking during a visit to Switzerland, meanwhile says that though Alitalia is talking with Air France, a deal with Swissair would offer "interesting possibilities". Amato even moots a possible tripartite deal involving Alitalia, Swissair and Air France, although this appears unrealistic.