EasyJet is upping the tempo in its turf war with Air France with the opening of two additional French bases, as it seeks to expand its business in continental Europe.
The airline is formally opening its new bases in Toulouse and Nice today bringing its number of French bases to five, the others being in Paris Orly, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon.
EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall, speaking to Flightglobal's Airline Business magazine, outlines how mainland Europe "offers EasyJet considerable future opportunity". Thirteen of EasyJet's 24 bases are in continental Europe, and 56% of the 54.5 million passengers EasyJet carried last year were from outside the UK.
McCall sees France as a prime market for the airline to exploit: "After the UK, France has the most number of bases of all our markets," she says. "EasyJet is the country's only low-cost airline of any note, but we need to get more people over 35 appraising and reappraising us - that is an opportunity for us."
Air France is trying to win back market share from the likes of EasyJet using its regional base concept, with which it aims to operate flights at costs around 15% lower than its mainline flights. This is being achieved through a single aircraft type fleet of Airbus A320s and using locally-based pilots and new working hours.
However Air France's plans suffered a blow in February when it emerged that it had dropped four of the proposed routes to be flown from its new regional bases in Nice and Toulouse.
For EasyJet, success in mainland Europe is prompting it to fine-tune its "no-frills" image, says McCall: "In the UK you can be cheap and tacky, and fun, and get away with it because this is where low-cost was established. In other markets in Europe - in France, in Germany, in Italy - that does not work," she says. "In some markets in Europe 'low-cost' just means 'bad experience', 'you don't care, you'll strand me'."