Air Nostrum (YW, Valencia Manises) and CityJet (WX, Dublin International) have announced the creation of a European regional alliance, called the Strategic Alliance of Regional Airlines (SARA), which the airlines described in an announcement on October 17 as a “holding group”.

The move comes more than five years after a tie-up between the two regional carriers was first outlined, but it does not as yet imply a direct merger between them. In March, the European Commission approved for the second time the creation of a joint venture combining the activities of the two airlines, expected to pave the way for a full merger.

According to the announcement, Air Nostrum’s shareholders own 80% of SARA, while CityJet’s own 20%. The alliance is made up of three airlines - also including Air Nostrum subsidiary Hibernian Airlines (HG, Dublin International) - as well as the Copenhagen Kastrup-based unit CityJet A/S, the MRO company ANEM and crew training unit ANTO, both based in Valencia, and three other companies providing services to the aviation industry: corporate services firm Air Nostrum Global Services, flight support entity ARA, and commercial broker Ard Aer.

“Holding Group SARA starts with an operating fleet of 74 regional aircraft and expects to grow to 100 aircraft in the next three years,” it declared, branding it “the largest combined regional aviation services group in Europe” and adding that the president of Air Nostrum, Carlos Bertomeu, is its chairman. CityJet CEO Pat Byrne is “head of strategy”.

“The intention is to continue to expand throughout Europe in cooperation with other customer airlines and partners,” it said, pledging to “execute our growth strategy both organically and through targeted M&A in the future.”

Bertomeu elaborated: “We are certain of important synergies in SARA, in areas such as aircraft maintenance, crew training, or the management of the fleet. [...] SARA will act as a holding company, assisting and coordinating each individual company of the group, which will continue to be independent entities, with their own brands and structures. Each of the companies linked to SARA will remain based in its own country and with its own employees, as in the past.”

Air Nostrum provides ACMI and charter services as well as scheduled flights under a franchise agreement with Iberia (IB, Madrid Barajas) as Iberia Express. According to ch-aviation fleets data, its fleet comprises six ATR72-600s (and a further five wet-leased from Mel Air (5M, Malta International)), twenty-seven CRJ1000ERs, six CRJ200ERs, and one CRJ900. Hibernian Airlines has a fleet of three further CRJ1000ERs.

CityJet, meanwhile, operates exclusively as an ACMI/charter specialist, having ended its own scheduled flights in October 2018, currently with a fleet of twenty-two CRJ900LRs, seventeen of them for SAS Scandinavian Airlines (SK, Copenhagen Kastrup), and four CRJ1000ERs, its other customers including Lufthansa (LH, Frankfurt International) and Brussels Airlines (SN, Brussels National).