French start-up to lease entire fleet from Flandre Air

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French start-up carrier Aerolignes will eventually operate a fleet of eight Raytheon Beech 1900C and 1900 D aircraft on a lease basis from Flandre Air, exclusively serving domestic French routes.

Based at Valenciennes in north-east France, Aerolignes is the result of collaboration between several Belgian investors and the Lille-Lesquin Airport-based Flandre Air, with operations due to start next week.

Just one Ratheyon Beech 1900C aircraft has been delivered so far, destined for use on the inaugural daily route of Lille-Rennes-Brest The other seven are to be phased in during the year, as discussions about new routes take place with Flandre Air.

Aerolignes' managing director, Rick Reinjtens, says: "We are operating as an outsourcing unit to start with and will fly under Air Liberté colours, but we are 100% independent.

"We want to specialise in JAR 23 aircraft and as Flandre Air appears to want to specialise more in larger machines, there seems to be an opportunity there for us. That's not to say we intend to get too big too quickly."

Flandre Air's managing director, Bertrand D'Yvoire, says: "The Belgian investors always wanted to get into the airline business and have been looking at the French internal market for some time.

"We wanted to upgrade our operations from JAR 23 category Raytheon Beech 1900 aircraft with less than 20 seats to a more substantial business and have therefore leased those aircraft to Aerolignes. To that end, we will operate using just Embraer EMB-120, ERJ-135 and ERJ-145 aircraft."

Aerolignes will operate on routes previously flown by Flandre Air and will concentrate on an exclusively French network in the style of its north-eastern neighbour, eventually using two Raytheon Beech 1900 C types and six 1900Ds.

D'Yvoire adds: "The company will also develop as yet unspecified freight operations using other aircraft and it is not true that its pilots will be hired from us at lower rates. Aerolignes has already taken on its own flight crew and will operate our aircraft on a dry-lease basis."

He denies that the new start-up will lead to saturation in the French domestic market. He says: "There is a problem in France in that air traffic is growing and we need more aircraft. European Union estimates put continental growth at around 12% per year and French movements are rising by at least that rate."

Flandre Air was the launch customer for the Embraer RJ-135 with firm orders for and options on ten more. The Lille-Lesquin-based airline operates a domestic network of 500 flights a week from hubs at Paris Orly, Rennes and Lille and became an Air Liberté franchise in November, 1998.

From January 1999 the carrier began operating under a code-sharing deal with Air Liberté, itself a franchisee of British Airways.