Julian Moxon/PARIS

Air France and Middle East Airlines (MEA) have finalised a cooperation accord which will initially see the two airlines operating together on the route between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Beirut.

The two airlines are old allies, the French carrier having held a 28.5% stake in MEA in 1969, before the onset of the Lebanese civil war. MEA president Mohamad El Hout says that a link with Air France through its Paris Charles de Gaulle hub would connect his carrier to many of the long- haul destinations it has given up as part of its restructuring plan. The airline is also looking at other "-complementary alliances to destinations not served by Air France", he adds.

Initially, the two will concentrate on improving services between Paris and Beirut. Next year will see MEA move its Paris base from Orly Airport to Charles de Gaulle. The deal will result in the harmonisation of ground and air services, and is expected to be further strengthened with Air France providing assistance with MEA's recovery plan. Air France also confirms that a full code-sharing alliance is likely "in the future".

The Lebanese carrier, which operates two Airbus A320s, two A321s and five A310s (three -200s and two -300s), is considering a new fleet of short to medium range aircraft for its Middle East route network in a competition between Airbus and Boeing.

The partial privatisation of Air France, which had been expected early in the fourth quarter of this year, has been put back to 1999 pending the outcome of wage negotiations with the pilots' unions following a strike in June. Agreement has still to be reached on such issues as the exchange of shares in the airline for a reduction in salaries, without which a full evaluation of the French national carrier's assets cannot be made.

Source: Flight International