Chris Jasper/LONDON

British Airways has added a twelfth franchise carrier, Zambian Air Services (ZAS), to its network of international partners, and is reported to be in talks to take over another, British Regional Airlines (BRAL). Meanwhile, the UK flag-carrier has denied it is looking to increase its stake in 25%-owned Qantas Airways, a key partner in the oneworld global alliance.

ZAS is a joint venture between BA's 18.3%-owned South African franchisee, Comair, and Roan Air Holdings of Zambia. The carrier will operate from January as Zambian Airways in BA livery and with the BA code, flying from Johannesburg to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, three times a week and to N'dola twice a week, using Boeing 737-200s wet-leased from Comair.

BA's director of alliances, franchises and subsidiaries, David Noyes, says ZAS will "provide BA with greater feeder traffic onto its mainline services to and from London". The African carrier, formerly Mines Air Services, was privatised in 1998, operating as Roan Air until its rebranding as Zambian Airways in September 1999.

Zambian Airways will continue to operate its own domestic services using two Raytheon Beechcraft 1900Ds. It also flies to Harare, Zimbabwe, and codeshares on Johannesburg-Lusaka services operated by Comair.

UK press reports say BA is also discussing the take-over of British Regional Airlines Group, the Isle of Man-headquartered parent of Manx Airlines and BRAL, which operates for BA from its Manchester base.

The group says it is in talks with an unnamed party "which may or may not lead to an offer being put to the company's shareholders", while BA would not confirm or deny that talks were taking place.

The BRAL group was floated off by British Midland shareholders in 1998, and is still 26.2%-owned by the BA rival's chairman, Sir Michael Bishop. Its shares have performed poorly, recovering their value only with the take-over rumours.

BA denies it is planning "to increase, or decrease" its stake in Qantas, while chief executive Rod Eddington, former head of Qantas' rival Ansett, says "both parties are happy with the current level of equity held".

BA says, however, that it wants Canberra to raise the ceiling on foreign investment in the flag-carrier to improve its access to global capital, and an airline source says that BA "has now set the ball rolling".

Source: Flight International