PARIS, France (eTN) – Over the last decade, Air France’s policy to concentrate its activity only at its major hubs – Paris CDG, Orly, for domestic flights, as well as Lyon – led to a weakening of the airline’s position in French regions. It was at the same time seen as a blessing for low-cost carriers, which strongly built up their positions. Easyjet has two regional bases in Lyon and Basle-Mulhouse and has a strong network in Bordeaux and Nice, Ryanair was in Marseille, while Spanish budget airline Vueling recently opened its first base in Toulouse. According to data from the French Airports Association (Union des Aéroports Français), 29% of all passengers movements at French provincial airports were on budget carriers last year.
Air France then decided to grasp the initiative and win back potential travelers in regions. The airline just announced its most ambitious expansion plan in the province with new regional bases due to start from October in Marseille then from Nice, Toulouse, and Bordeaux. Marseille will be the first city to benefit from the new Air France short-haul program.
The airport has traffic of over 7.5 million passengers annually. The opening of a “low-cost” terminal with limited services helped the airport to gain one million additional passengers in four years’ time. According to Marseille Airport’s authority, the low-cost effect created a dynamic for all traffic. The number of routes doubled from 50 to 100, with many new carriers entering Marseille’s air market.
Ryanair played an important role. Until early this year, the carrier had a network of over 30 destinations from the Southern French city. From October 2, Air France will increase its seat capacity on domestic routes out of Marseille and will open 13 new destinations in Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea, including flights to Beyrouth, Istanbul, and Casablanca. New flights to Europe will link the city to Athens, Basel-Mulhousem, Biarritz, Brest, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Eindhoven, Milan, Moscow, and Prague. The total number of destinations served by Air France and its partners will then grow to 30 compared to less 12 destinations today (including 9 on domestic routes). Many of these routes used to be or are still served by Ryanair today.
Air France is also launching a new fare structure with prices going as low as 50 € for a one-way ticket. Ticket cost will still be slightly higher than on Ryanair. But the Air France management is keen to underline that it does include all services from a legacy carrier such as luggage, seat booking, Internet check-in, and refreshments on board.
Air France’s low fares will be achieved with a new organizational structure, which is helping the airline to reduce its operating costs by 15%. The airline introduced various measures such as a single type of aircraft (Airbus A320 with 142 to 178 seats), better aircraft utilization and shorter turn-around at airports, staff located at regional operational bases, and a better use of all human and material resources in each regional airport.
In 2010, Air France carried 2.36 million passengers to and from Marseille, representing a market share of 31.4% of the airport’s total passenger traffic. By comparison, low-cost carriers transported 1.74 million passengers, representing a share of 23.1%. Based on the airport authority’s calculations, Air France is likely to carry one million extra passengers during its first year of activity. The French airline is even more optimistic in its projection, expecting to carry an additional 1.3 million travelers.
The timing is indeed perfect: in 2013, Marseille will become Europe’s “Capital City of Culture.” Air France, in fact, unveiled that it will be the event’s official air partner throughout the year. By early 2012, Air France will launch another base in Toulouse, followed then by Bordeaux and Nice.