Each carrier has been granted enough slots by French slot authority COHOR to launch three or four routes from Orly, and are identifying which destinations they want to fly to and how soon they can launch services.

The slots became available following the demise of Air Lib in February. In 2002, it represented 16.6% of passenger traffic at Orly and held over 35,000 of the 250,000 slots at the airport. Orly has been restricted to this number of slots since 1994 on environmental grounds.

Demand for Air Lib's slots has been high, with some 42 carriers making applications which together equalled the airport's entire slot total. Aeris, which mainly flies on behalf of tour operators from Orly, was the major beneficiary, gaining 7,612 slots. It plans to lease up to four Boeing 737-300s to expand its fledgling low-cost arm Aeris Express.

Although it had applied for some 20,000 slots to establish a major presence at Orly, easyJet says it is happy with the 7,300 it has been granted. In a statement the airline said: "It is very rare that such a large number of slots becomes available at any of Europe's most constrained airports and there is almost no guidance given for this kind of eventuality in the European slot regulations."

The only disappointment for the airline is that it cannot operate to more destinations to give greater competition to Air France, which is easily the dominant carrier at Orly with 53.6% of the airport's traffic in 2002. EasyJet's slots are enough for 10 return flights per day, or the equivalent of three aircraft, says the carrier, and it is evaluating the launch of three routes during the summer. Orly will be easyJet's third continental European base after Amsterdam and Geneva. Its only route from Orly today is to Geneva.

The earlier than expected slot handout means that the proposed bid by Virgin Express and its French partner CMA CGM to take over Air Lib's assets and form a new carrier at Orly is shelved. However, Virgin Express won 5,840 slots at Orly enabling it to launch three routes, with Rome Fiumicino one likely candidate. It is looking to lease three more 737-300s or -400s for the services.

Italy's Volare Airlines, which is setting up a low-cost operation called Volare.web, was granted 3,650 slots. These could be used to begin services to Bari, Milan and Venice.

Source: Airline Business