Air Austral, the regional airline based in the French overseas territory of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, is investing €20 million ($19.7 million) to start long-haul services to Europe next year, and will need to acquire widebody aircraft.

The airline aims to start a new daily service between Réunion and Paris by June. It will be the carrier's first flight beyond Africa and the Indian Ocean region. Services between Paris and Mayotte in the French Comores are expected to begin by the end of next year, after runway extension at Mayotte.

Air Austral's general manager for South Africa Greta du Bois says the airline will buy or lease two widebodies, with the Airbus A330, A340 and Boeing 767 being evaluated. Airbus is front runner, with a lease being discussed.

The airline operates two Boeing 737-300s, one -500 and a single ATR 72-500 turboprop on its network of routes to other points in the Indian Ocean and South Africa.

Air Austral says it is aiming for 17% of the Réunion-Paris market, which is dominated by Air France, and served by Air Lib and Corsair. Services will be flown in co-operation with the French flag carrier, which owns 36% of Air Austral.

The airline has linked Réunion and Mayotte with two daily flights for 25 years. Du Bois says Mayotte is growing rapidly thanks partly to South African investors. South African traffic, via Réunion is increasing, she says. Air Austral flies weekly direct between Réunion and Johannesburg. It recently suspended a second flight via Madagascar because of political unrest there, but will reinstate a weekly direct peak season flight next month.

Source: Flight International