By basing crew at provincial airports, carrier aims to retake market share from its low-cost competitors

Air France has put more flesh on the bones of its plan to develop provincial bases, aimed at offering lower-cost regional services to help it regain market-share from its low-cost rivals.

The carrier will debut the new regional services from Marseilles this October. It will roll out ­similar new services from Bordeaux, Nice and Toulouse in spring next year, launching 54 new routes in total to European cities and the Mediterranean.

Under the initiative Air France aims to reduce operating costs by 15% and increase capacity in the regions by more than 30%.

Air France executive vice-president marketing, revenue management, Bruno Matheu, says: "The objective is to win back market-share on the short and medium haul point-to-point network". It aims to attract passengers by pitching fares starting at €50 ($71) one-way including tax, which involved reducing costs and in turn required a reorganisation of the Air France network. The flights will offer the same conditions and services as on Air France network flights.

The carrier believes it can cut costs on the services through a variety of changes including increasing aircraft productivity from 8h 15min per day to 11h 40min. Reduced turnarounds of 5min at stations will also contribute to a total productivity gain of around 40%.

The carrier's new employment contract will see crews based at the four regional locations working more hours, but over fewer days than at present. Cabin crew will work 650 flying hours over just under 120 days annually, while pilots will operate 715 flying hours over slightly fewer than 130 days. Together with the changes to duty rosters, this will save an estimated 15-20% in costs per flight hour through reductions on overnighting (particularly hotel costs), as crews will return to their home bases each evening.

Each of the 10 aircraft to be based in each regional airport will have two crews and will all be of the A320 family due to the optimised fuel consumption and rationalised maintenance costs that Air France stated can be attained through use of a single aircraft type.

French pilot's body Syndicat National des Pilotes de Ligne, which represents around 70% of Air France pilots, backed the move early in July.

Air France believes its regional model can increase annual passenger numbers to 4.5 million.

Low-cost carrier EasyJet already operates out of a string of provincial French airports, including Bordeaux, Nice and Toulouse, while Spanish carrier Vueling opened a Toulouse base earlier this year.

Source: Airline Business