Julian Moxon/PARIS

Air France and Delta Air Lines have agreed the terms of a long-anticipated alliance. They have pledged to sign up further partners by the end of the year to form a global grouping that will be bigger than the emerging KLM/Northwest Airlines-led Wings alliance and "intended to compete directly with the oneworld and Star alliances".

The French flag carrier's president, Jean-Cyril Spinetta, says that Air France and Delta want to keep the alliance "simple, robust and efficient". He adds: "Our first act has been to build a transatlantic axis. Then, together, we will invite others to join us as founders of a truly global alliance."

Spinetta says the identity of these founders will be revealed "as soon as possible", and that secondary partners will be added later. Potential allies will be recruited from the ranks of the airlines' partners, "and other carriers interested in the project".

The new tie-up threatens to cut Delta adrift from Swissair, Sabena and Austrian - its allies in the Atlantic Excellence alliance. Although the US major says it aims to bring the three into the new grouping, the significant overlap between Air France and Swissair operations means this is unlikely to happen. Indeed, on the day the deal was announced, Swissair and Sabena revealed codeshare agreements with oneworld founder American Airlines.

France and the USA lack a full open skies agreement, which could pose problems. "We feel strongly that anti-trust immunity is a very powerful benefit and we will have talks with the governments to try and move the open skies process forward more swiftly," says Spinetta. "If we want to fight the other global alliances it will be an imperative."

The deal is likely to add around Fr1 billion ($160 million) to Air France's profits within three years, Spinetta says, of which Fr700 million will be from increased sales, and the rest from cost cuts resulting from joint purchasing policies.

The two airlines are each the third largest in their respective continents by turnover.

Source: Flight International