French regional airline Flandre Air has teamed with Air Liberté in a franchise agreement that will add 22 routes and 18 aircraft to the British Airways subsidiary.

The five-year deal, which is expected to take effect on 18 January, extends the code-sharing agreement between the two carriers, signed in September 1997, under which Flandre Air operates one-third of its routes under the Air Liberté banner.

The Lille-based carrier, which began scheduled services in 1985, will now yield its entire network to the larger airline, which will take over commercialisation and ticketing, leaving route management and financial control to Flandre Air. "We are not a hub operator," says marketing manager Bertrand Cuisinier. "Our strategy is to offer services across France from three main points". These are Paris Orly, for routes to smaller destinations, and Rennes and Lille, for hub-bypassing inter-regional routes.

Flandre Air was the European launch customer for the Embraer RJ-135, with a firm order for 10 aircraft and a further 10 on option. Cuisinier says the aircraft will replace progressively those of fewer than 100 seats now in service with Air Liberté, mainly ATR 42s and Fokker F28s.

The first two ERJ-135s are due for delivery in October 1999, and the carrier retains an option to step up to the larger ERJ-145 for the last six aircraft on firm order. "We will see what the agreement with Air Liberté brings," says Cuisinier. "They have a very diversified fleet and the addition of our regional jets will help them to modernise and grow their offerings in the 30/40-seat segment."

Flandre Air has tripled passenger traffic to 300,000 in the last three years and doubled sales to Fr230 million ($39 million). Investment in new routes has pushed the carrier into loss for the last two years, although Cuisiner says Flandre will be back in profit this year.

The airline, owned by the family of its president, Luc Delasalle, will open its capital to outside investors in the first half of 1999 to raise around Fr50 million ($9 million) to help finance the ERJ-135 purchase.

Source: Flight International