Julian Moxon/PARIS

AIR LIBERTE has been given six months to implement a survival plan or face bankruptcy. The independent airline is credited with leading the battle to open up the French air market, and was also recently voted the country's most popular carrier

The concession was won from a French commercial tribunal by the airline's president, Lotfi Belhassine. This followed a shareholder's meeting on 26 September which failed to produce the extra financing he had demanded to enable Air Libert‚ to continue operations at the present level. The carrier had clocked up estimated losses of Fr650 million ($126 million) by the end of July.

The same meeting rejected Belhassine's resignation offer and approved his plans for a refinancing and route-restructuring effort. Belhassine says that Air Libert‚ needs Fr100 million in the short term if it is to continue trading. The airline's 1,800 employees are being asked to give up two months' salary over the next 18 months, while the rest will come from Belhassine and "external partners", including part-owner ILFC.

Several domestic and international routes will be terminated, including Paris-Montreal, Toulouse-London and Bordeaux-London. The carrier says that it will return four leased Airbus A300s and A310s and two McDonnell Douglas (MDC) DC-10s to ILFC, retaining only two DC-10s and a single A310, and will concentrate on short and medium-haul routes with its MDC MD-83s.

Belhassine claims that Air Libert‚ has suffered from the French Government's support for Air France which curbed attempts to expand at key airports, and that Air France has been free to set uneconomic fares after receiving Fr20 billion in state aid.

Air Libert‚ started scheduled services in 1987, but remained primarily a charter operator until acquiring Euralair in 1995, which brought with it slots at Paris Orly and new aircraft. In January, Belhassine announced that Air Libert‚ would open 23 domestic routes in 1996, but only five have yet been opened.


Source: Flight International