Swissport International, the world’s largest aviation ground-handling company by sales, said on Monday it had entered into exclusive talks to buy French-owned Servisair for an undisclosed sum.

The purchase of Servisair, owned by Paris-based environmental and corporate services group Derichebourg, would continue a string of acquisitions that has enabled Swissport to swell in size in recent years as cash-strapped airlines offload ground services to concentrate on their core businesses.

The Swiss-based company, which private-equity firm PAI Partners bought in 2010, handles about 3.5m tons of cargo a year and had sales in 2012 of SFr1.9bn. Servisair, which provides a range of ground services to the aviation industry, handles 645,000 tons of cargo a year.

The purchase of Servisair would add about 15,000 employees to Swissport’s 40,000.

Shares in Derichebourg jumped almost 23 per cent on the announcement to close at €2.97. Analysts believe the deal would leave the French company with minimal debt levels and able to focus on its other businesses.

On Monday, Swissport declined to mention figures but one person with knowledge of the process told the FT that it could be in the region of €400m.

In March, the company said that it planned to buy most of the ground-handling operations of SAS Group, the biggest Scandinavian airline. That deal is still in process, Swissport said on Monday. Last year, the company bought Flightcare Belgium and Flightcare Spain from FCC Versia, a Madrid-based company, for an undisclosed sum.

Earlier this year, Swissport said that it might contemplate listing on the stock market in the medium term.

Additional reporting by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany

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