Mentre aspetta la fumata bianca da Palazzo Chigi, AirFrance-KLM si compra una piccola compagnia belga che fattura 100 milioni l’anno e fa 4 milioni di utile netto.
Air France-KLM on Monday agreed to buy VLM Airlines, the Belgian regional carrier and the biggest operator at London City airport in a surprise takeover coup defeating rival interest from British Airways.
The deal, announced on Christmas Eve, will make Air France-KLM the dominant player at London City, the small but fast-growing airport that is located close to the financial districts of the City of London and Canary Wharf and specialises in lucrative business travellers.
As a result of the takeover the French carrier, the worlds biggest airline measured by turnover, will control close to half of all the takeoffs and landings at London City. The airport is virtually full at peak hours making it almost impossible for rival carriers to close the gap.
Passenger numbers have been growing quickly at the airport by around 20 per cent from 2.4m last year – partly as a result of business passengers deserting London Heathrow.
The main London hub airport has become notorious this year for travel hassle with long delays and many misplaced bags. London City has much shorter check-in times and is much closer to the City.
Strategically the French carrier is acquiring a powerful presence on an important part of BAs home turf and in particular in the market for business passengers flying on short-haul UK domestic and continental European routes out of London, the biggest aviation market in Europe.
All three leading European airlines, Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, which includes Swiss, and British Airways, have made expansion at London City a priority during the last year and have been competing hard in head-to-head competition.
Four weeks ago BA announced that it was planning to increase its flying from London City by 32 per cent next year, raising its fleet serving the airport to 12 aircraft and increasing its network to nine destinations by adding Nice, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Warsaw.
It is understood that BA had also shown keen interest in taking over VLM, but its loss of the deal to its French rival means that it will be dwarfed by Air France-KLM at one of its three home London airports.
No financial details were disclosed for the deal, which is subject to regulatory approval.
VLM is being sold by Panta Holdings of the Netherlands, which is 100 per cent owned by the Dutch businessman Jaap Rosen Jacobson.
He said on Monday that the carrier was a jewel amongst the regional airlines. It has developed from a small airline into the most important player at London City Airport.
Johan Vanneste, VLM Airlines managing director, said the group accounted in September, the latest data available, for 26 per cent of all the take-offs and landings at London City, while Air France-KLM itself already held a share of around 23 per cent through CityJet, its 100 per cent owned Irish regional airline subsidiary.
Air France-KLM first revealed its plans for an ambitious assault on the London City business travel market in February, when it set up a network of routes between the airport and leading European financial and business centres using its Irish subsidiary.
The operation was branded CityJet for Air France and marked the first time that the French airline had established a separate network outside France that did not touch its home hubs in France and the Netherlands at either end of most of the routes.
VLM, launched in 1993, has carved a particular niche for itself as a full service regional business airline with its main base at London City, outside its Belgian home territory. Business travellers represent more than 80 per cent of its customers.
It currently offers around 100 flights per weekday to and from London City operating a fleet of 18 Fokker 50 turboprop aircraft and one BAe 146 regional jet.
It will carry around 750,000 passengers in 2007 and has been profitable in each of the last 10 years. It made a pre-tax profit of 4.3m last year on a turnover of 100m.
Panta Holdings was advised on the transaction by N M Rothschild.