EasyJet is to challenge what it sees as anti-competitive behaviour by Air France and French airports. The UK budget carrier, which is taking its case to the French courts, is accusing Air France of building a dominant position in its home market.

The move comes on the back of a high-profile war of words between easyJet and the French carrier and slot allocation body Cohors. EasyJet has called on a capacity freeze for Air France at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports as it campaigns for more slots at the French capital.

The UK budget carrier has also attacked Cohors, claiming it is in the pocket of the French flag carrier. EasyJet wants to see more slots allocated to carriers other than Air France at Orly and differential pricing at French airports in place of the "one charge fits all" system.

Air France has hit back at the claims, pointing to the strong market presence of the TGV high-speed rail network and claiming that this has resulted in a 15% drop in French domestic air traffic over the last three years. It says that the price of air travel in France "has for a long time been the lowest in Europe".

In response to low-cost competition, Air France is to introduce lower fares on all domestic routes and European services out of France from the summer season. This will see the carrier offer up to 84% discounts on some economy fares and do away with weekend restrictions. Responding to this latest move, easyJet chief executive Ray Webster says: "This announcement shows Air France has recognised that it has been overcharging consumers for too long."

EasyJet has long complained that it is not being given a fair crack of the whip in the French market. The carrier operates flights from various points in Europe to French destinations including Air France's hub at Charles de Gaulle and Orly, Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille and Nice. EasyJet also provides French domestic services from Charles de Gaulle to Nice and from Orly to Toulouse and Marseille.

In 2003, easyJet carried 3.2 million passengers to and from France, compared with 44.1 million carried by Air France and its affiliates. France has seen Air Littoral, Air Lib and Aeris collapse over the last couple of year's, cementing Air France's leading position, while easyJet has moved up to become the second largest carrier in the country.

Source: Airline Business