Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Minority SAirGroup-owned Italian charter carriers Air Europe and Volare Airlines are to be combined under a single holding company as the latest step in the Swiss company's efforts to consolidate its European airline interests.

As part of the move, Air Europe's long-haul fleet of four Boeing 767-300ERs and two 777-200ERs will be replaced with a similar number of Airbus A330-200s, leased from SAirGroup subsidiary Flightlease, by 2002.

The two airlines' combined short-haul fleet will comprise 17Airbus A320s and one A321 by the end of this year.

The new holding company, Volare Group, will be 49.9%-owned by SAirGroup and 35.1% by Volare Airlines shareholders, with Volare Group president Gina Zoccai and other investors holding the balance. Air Europe and Volare are members of the Qualiflyer Group and combining the two will "take optimal advantage of the available synergies, particularly in the network and fleet sectors", says SAirGroup.

The pair will continue to operate under their separate brands for the time being, although it is planned that their sales and marketing functions will merged under the control of SAirGroup's Airline Management Company Italy. Volare Group will become Italy's largest charter operator and will also have a substantial presence in scheduled markets.

SAirGroup's previous strategy of combining its charter airline interests under the "European Leisure Group" umbrella have now been dropped in favour of developing closer ties between scheduled and charter operations. The 767-300ERwas originally to have become the standard long-haul charter aircraft, but the bulk of the Swiss company's affiliates have switched to Airbus widebodies, potentially leaving Swissair subsidiary Balair/CTA as the group's only long-term operator of the Boeing type.

The move heralds greater attention to the Italian market by some of Europe's leading airlines. British Airways' franchise operator National Jet Italia started operations on 11 July with a service between Rome and Palermo in Sicily using British Aerospace 146-300s. The carrier expects to start connecting a number of southern Italian destinations with Rome in the next few months.

Lufthansa is reported to be in talks with leading independent Air One over the possibility of agreeing a codesharing in time for the winter schedule. The Italian carrier operates Boeing 737s on over 400 flights a week to domestic and European destinations.

Source: Flight International