Air France has chosen Marseille as the first of its new regional bases, as it aims to cut costs and boost its European medium-haul services.

The French national carrier announced in November 2010 that it was studying four regional cities as its potential initial bases. Following its 11 July announcement of a swathe of new routes to be operated from Marseille from 2 October 2011, it said it would implement a similar strategy from Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nice from spring 2012.

In total, there will be 54 new routes from the four regional bases, each of which will become home to around 10 medium-haul Airbus A320s and A319s. The new routes will be aimed primarily at lesiure travellers, said the airline.

The increase in flights from Marseille will result in a 50% rise in the number of seats available on flights from the city, which Air France estimates will produce an extra 1.3 million passengers passing through the airport annually. It anticipates an extra 4.5 million passengers annually when all four bases are operational.

From Marseille, there will be three new domestic sectors, to Biarritz, Basel Mulhouse and Brest, and 10 new international destinations: Athens, Beirut, Casablanca, Copenhagen, Duesseldorf, Eindhoven, Istanbul, Milan Malpensa, Moscow and Prague.

There will also be increases in capacity on existing domestic services to Bordeaux, Lille, Nantes, Toulouse, Paris Charles De Gaulle and Paris Orly.

The new regional policy aims to reduce operational costs by around 15% through a variety of measures such as the use of a single aircraft type at the bases, which will help rationalise maintenance costs. Daily use of the aircraft will be optimised, with initial departures earlier in the morning and final sectors returning to the base airport later in the evening than at present.

Together with turnarounds reduced by 5min (30min for A319s and 35min for A320s), this will result in an increase in daily usage from the current 8h 15min to 11h 40min, representing a productivity gain of around 40%, said the carrier.

Crews based at the four regional locations will work 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.

The airline will seek volunteers - 350 pilots and 650 cabin crew - to be based in the regions. 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 aircraft based in the regions will have two crews made up of a captain, a co-pilot and four cabin crew (three on the A319).

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news