Air France plans to take advantage of capacity restraints at rival European hubs with an expansion of Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG). It has also been busy investing in regional airlines which will feed traffic into the airport.

Over the past four years Air France has boosted the number of daily flights at CDG from 376 to 647. Passenger numbers have risen from close to doubled to 67,881 a day, and connecting traffic has risen to 25% of the total.

To ensure continued growth, a fourth runway is planned for April next year, which will take movements from 97 to 120 hourly. A new access route from the East is scheduled, an internal beltway is to be created in the airport and a new train service is planned, to link CDG with Paris Gare de L'est.

Punctuality is now the top priority in the carrier's corporate plan, according to Pascal de Izaguirre, senior vice-president for operations at Air France, who describes Air France's delays record as "still unsatisfactory".

The CDG hub lies at the heart of the alliance partnership with Delta. Mark Drusch, senior vice-president for network management, says that "the central point of the alliance is heavily dependent on our ability to develop our hubs". The integration of Delta's Atlanta, Georgia, and Air France's CDG hubs provides services to 251 cities and nearly 15,000 city pairs.

Meanwhile, Air France has been investing heavily in its regional network. The airline is to take a 42% stake in its franchise partner Proteus Airlines. Lille-based Proteus is using the investment, financed via the issue of convertible bonds, to merge with Air Flandre. Air France has also purchased 70%of the share capital of Clermont-Ferrand-based Regional Airlines.

Sources at Air France say that the airline is seeking to guarantee the quality of its regional network through these investments, as well as increasing the amount of feeder traffic into CDG. French regionals have tended to focus on east-west routes, and some analysts predict that Air France may change this in favour of a hub-to-spoke strategy, focusing on CDG and, to a lesser extent, Lyons. Some also say that Air France is heading off the risk of the regional carriers succumbing to the overtures of rival European majors.

SAirGroup, for example, may be about to increase its strength in the French regional market through its subsidiary, AOM. The latter is reported to be close to purchasing British Airways' controlling stake in Air Liberté.

Source: Airline Business