French CityJet pilot fears over Intro sale

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Ahead of the sale Air France regional unit CityJet to German turnaround specialist Intro Aviation, pilots at the regional carrier are appealing to its parent to maintain commitment to the staff after the sale.

Intro agreed a deal to acquire Air France-KLM unit CityJet and its Belgian subsidiary VLM in late December and has been hoping to close the acquisition by the end of this month.

French pilots at CityJet’s base at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport are fearing potential job losses or relocations, because Intro’s business plan will focus on London City airport, a source at French pilot union SNPL tells Flightglobal. The Nuremberg-based group has presented its takeover plans to CityJet staff members, but the employees have no formal rights to prevent the acquisition.

Air France will continue to wet-lease CityJet aircraft for flights from Charles de Gaulle, but the number of services will be gradually reduced before the contract eventually expires in October 2017.

“We will do everything to continue operating for Air France beyond the [existing] contracts,” says Intro founder Hans Rudolf Wohrl. “Whether that succeeds will not least depend on the pilot’s motivation and how good the product becomes after the takeover,” he adds.

CityJet employs 84 staff members on French terms at Charles de Gaulle, including pilots, flight attendants and ground crew. However, the carrier’s operations at the Air France hub – which comprises seven BAE Systems Avro RJ85 regional jets – involve additional employees from other bases.

While SNPL cannot demand job guarantees from Air France – especially as the French carrier is reducing its headcount to return to profitability – the source says the management should “show commitment” for its former staff and consider them for re-employment when recruitment starts again.

After Air France has reduced its headcount through voluntary redundancy programmes in the past, the union argues that the CityJet sale represents a “hidden” compulsory redundancy scheme.

Air France will transfer the airline without any of its existing debts and thus help Intro to newly set up CityJet on a “blank sheet”, the source says. The mainline carrier has booked a €122 million ($170 million) loss associated with the sale.

CityJet staff members are concerned about the airline’s viability as an independent operator without Air France’s financial power and operational scale, particularly as it will compete against British Airways at London City. “Employees are very much in doubt about the [Intro] business plans if BA maintains its level of competition” through its regional CityFlyer division, the source says.

The situation could become more difficult when CityJet needs to replace its fleet. By 2017, the source claims, the airline will become unable to continue operating the RJ85s on a financially competitive basis. New aircraft will be needed to offer the required level of service at a competitive cost, the source says.

“Today, both the Avros and F50s [Fokker 50 turboprops of VLM] are fulfilling all operational requirements, especially in regard to the particularities [steep approach] at London City. So there is no rush to replace them,” says Wohrl. He adds, however, that “in technical terms, we are looking at all suitable aircraft [models].”