Julian Moxon/BUDAPEST Alexander Velovich/MOSCOW

Air France and Aeroflot have agreed a deal that should see the Russian carrier join the former's global alliance with Delta Air Lines, while the French flag carrier is also emerging as the most likely partner for Hungary's Malev, with its Budapest Ferihegy hub.

The new accord will deepen the Air France-Aeroflot alliance established in 1997, setting up a working group to refine Aeroflot's route network, fleet, quality of service, sales effort and maintenance and cargo operations.

Air France president Jean Cyril Spinetta says Aeroflot will join it, Delta and expected allies Korean Air and Aeromexico "as soon as possible", although sources say it will do so "only when ready".

Malev is being courted by all the global alliances as it seeks an airline investor, but sources say that Air France/Delta are seen as the "ideal partner". Malev and Air France have a codeshare deal.

The airline is 97% state-owned, with the sale of a 49% stake approved this year. The other 51% must remain in the country, with Budapest retaining 25%, plus a golden share. The related Aeroplex maintenance arm will be sold under the same rules.

New Malev chief executive Ferenc Kovacs says US consultancy SH&E has been contracted to study "the benefits of each possible partnership", with a decision due in mid-year. Kovacs says a sale will occur in "about two years", after the airline has been reorganised and profitability improved. Malev recorded a provisional operating loss of Forints 3.5 billion ($13.2 million ) last year on turnover of Forints 90 billion.

Source: Flight International