Julian Moxon/PARIS

FRENCH DOMESTIC airline Air Liberte is poised to take advantage of the 1 January 1996, liberalisation of French skies (to national airlines only) with plans to launch 23 new domestic routes in the first six months of this year.

Air Liberte President Lotfi Belhassine, announced the programme at the opening of a new five times daily route, between Paris Orly and Nice, beginning operations on 19 January. This will be followed by Orly-Montpellier on 26 January (three per day) and an increase in frequencies on other routes such as Orly-Toulouse, which since the acquisition of Euralair's domestic operation, has generated a shift to 14 daily flights.

"We're making money on Toulouse," says Belhassine. "Our load factors are higher than 70%, and we were planning for 50% only at this point in our development." Three more destinations will begin from March, a further two in April, seven in June and five in July. Air Liberte will also open four routes from Nice, where Belhassine says that he intends to develop a "secondary hub" operation. These routes will operate to Bordeaux, Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse.

In another development, French independent carrier AOM says that it will launch three new routes in 1996, from Orly to Toulon, Perpignan and Pau, beginning on 1 March. In 1995, AOM made its first profits since it was formed in 1992 from the merger of Air Outre Mer and Minerve.

The airline has been competing with monopoly operator Air Inter Europe on the Orly-Nice route since it was first liberalised in 1992, and began operations between Orly and Marseilles in 1994.

AOM will take delivery, of two new McDonnell Douglas MD-80s in March, adding to the ten aircraft already in service.

Air Inter Europe has been forced to match the Fr690 ($140) return fares for Orly-Nice and Orly-Toulon charged by Air Liberte and AOM, saying it will keep the new tariffs, which are 34% lower than the original fare, for three months.

In a further French regional-airline development, Air Littoral is negotiating with Aero International (Regional) on the purchase of up to 15 ATR 42-500 turboprops, to replace its existing five ATR 42s, a single ATR 72 and nine Embraer Brasilias.

The Montpellier-based airline also operates six Canadair Regional Jets on cargo flights for the Air France Group. The business represents around 50% of Air Littoral's 1995 turnover of Fr853 million.

If confirmed, the order would be the first significant success for the new AI(R) group, which brings together the activities of the former ATR, and British Aerospace's regional-aircraft operations. The Dornier 328 and Bombardier de Havilland Dash 8 continue to compete for the deal.

Source: Flight International