Air France is to restructure its European operations by creating several provincial bases to reinforce its position in the market.

The SkyTeam carrier has identified four potential initial bases - Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux and Toulouse - each of which would have 10 stationed aircraft.

If the scheme shows promise, it could be extended to Paris Orly and Lyon.

"We believe the project will enable us to revitalise and revive Air France's point-to-point operation and strengthen our market presence in the French provinces," says executive vice-president for network Bruno Matheu.

He stresses that the branding and other aspects of the operation will remain unaffected. "It's about changing the operating model, not the product," he says.

Air France will "dramatically" alter productivity levels under the scheme, increasing fleet utilisation from the current 8-9h to 12h per day.

This will partly be achieved by cutting turnaround times to 30min for Airbus A319s and 35min for A320s.

Air France will operate the scheme on a voluntary basis for crews. For each aircraft it plans to use just one crew for morning operations and one for afternoon services, increasing the productivity of crew pairing.

Matheu says the crews will work "significantly more" in terms of flight hours but "significantly less" in respect of the number of days on duty.

The remuneration package will be based on days spent on duty. Air France wants to achieve 750 block hours per year from crews but with each member spending three or four fewer days on duty each month.

"This is the basis of our social deal, this is why we believe we'll have a lot of volunteers," says Matheu.

French pilots union SNPL states that it "has a duty to consider" the provincial base project. It says that, "on paper, it creates strong growth" but is still evaluating the proposal.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news