Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

KLM says that it will continue to press ahead with plans to increase its presence across Europe, having signed its latest partnership deal with Norway's Braathens SAFE- backed with a 30%equity stake.

KLM, which took full control of Air UK earlier this year and has an extensive codesharing pact with Germany's Eurowings, says that the Braathens deal will now take the alliance's share of the European market to 8-9%. "To be a good partner in a global alliance, we've said that we need a market share in Europe of 10-15%,"says KLM, adding that it sees as few as six groupings eventually dominating the market.

Braathens carried around 5.5 million passengers in 1996 on a fleet of 27 Boeing 737s, and has been stepping up its presence outside Norway, including the acquisition of a 50%stake in Sweden's Transwede. It will now work at ways to link into the KLM and Northwest Airlines intercontinental network out of Amsterdam, as well as looking at co-operation with Air UK. Braathens flies 16 times a week to London Gatwick and 12 times to Newcastle.

Sources within KLM suggest that attention is now likely to turn to southern Europe. The carrier already has a minor tie-up with Regional Airlines in France, but bigger deals have yet to materialise. Contacts have taken place with Alitalia, although the Italian airline says that these have been informal until now, given the extent of its own internal restructuring.

The Braathens tie-up further raises the stakes in the Scandinavian air market, which began to heat up two years ago, when SAS and Lufthansa sealed their partnership as a forerunner to the full Star alliance. Earlier this year, Finnair severed its own seven-year agreement with Lufthansa and has set about building an alternative Scandinavian group, coming together in April with Braathens, Maersk Air and Transwede.

Braathens and KLM confirm that they would welcome further links between these two alliances. Sources within Scandinavia say that talks have taken place with Maersk Air, which already has links to KLM, but that the independent Danish carrier does not want to be tied to a bigger grouping .

Finnair chief executive Antti Potila indicates that his company plans to link into a global grouping and has been edging closer to the Swissair/ Austrian Airlines/Sabena alliance through recent deals. Although no talks have taken place, KLM and Braathens are also keen to attract the group. "We are assessing our options," says Potila.

SAS says that it expects further moves in Scandinavia, including the threat that British Airways may seek to expand in the region. The airline admits that it saw a greater immediate threat in rumours that Braathens was about to turn frequent-flier links into a full alliance with BA.

Source: Flight International