Julian Moxon/PARIS

France's second largest airline, AOM, has become the latest independent carrier to fall to a foreign carrier's expansion plan, with the SAir Group purchasing a 49% stake from Credit Lyonnaise. As Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, a majority holding must remain in France, and this will go to the Marine-Wendel group and its capital development partner Groupe Alpha.

Though several other European airlines expressed an interest in AOM, the Swissair parent is believed to have made the only firm offer for the carrier, which is expected to show a Fr90 million loss and debts of around Fr2 billion in its 1998 first half accounts. Turnover increased 13% last year to Fr4.4 billion.

SAir already has a commercial alliance with AOM dating from September 1997, with the French airline admitted to the Swissair-led Qualiflyer group last year.

SAir's investment - which is subject to European Commission approval - will see it become AOM's "industrial leader", and adds another airline to a growing European portfolio that includes a 44% share in regional airline Air Littoral, 49% of Sabena and stakes in Air Europe and LTU.

British Airways is the other large investor in the French market having acquired TAT and Air Libertie in recent years.

AOM carried 3.5 million passengers last year on a route network based around domestic services to several French cities and to French overseas territories and the Caribbean. The airline has a strong position at Paris Orly airport, but could develop a stronger presence at Charles de Gaulle as Swissair cuts its international operations.

AOM is due to take delivery of two ex-Air France Airbus A340-200s in February, and operates 13 Boeing DC-10s, 10 MD-83s and 3 Boeing 737-500s.

Marine-Wendel is owned by Ernest-Antoine Sellière, who used to run Euralair, the French business charter airline created by AOM president Alexandre Couvelaire.

Source: Flight International