French slot coordinator COHOR has hit back at easyJet over the budget carrier's claims that it has not been given a fair share of the slots at Paris Orly.

EasyJet has long complained that it is not getting enough slots to set up an alternative to Air France at the southern Parisian airport. In May, easyJet chief operating officer Ed Winter told French airports that the carrier's failure to obtain more slots at Orly was holding back its plans to grow the French market.

Winter, speaking at the French Connect network planning conference in Sheffield, UK, complained that Air France has increased its market share at Orly since 2001 from 44% to 55% in 2005, following the collapse of Air Lib and Aeris in 2003. EasyJet holds 5.5% of the Orly slots.

Winter also criticised the decision to give Italian low-cost outfit Volare slots that Air France and Alitalia were forced to make available to competitors on certain Italian routes as a condition of their alliance. Volare folded late last year.

However, managing director of COHOR, Eric Herbane hit back at easyJet, pointing out that the UK carrier had failed on three separate occasions to apply for the slots on Italian routes made available by the Air France/Alitalia alliance.

Air France was also the only carrier to apply for public service obligation routes to French dependent territories which became available when Air Lib folded in 2003, Herbane said, telling Winter: "You could have applied for those. This is the only reason for the increase in slots for Air France".

Pointing to the 94,000 annual slots made available between 2002 and 2005 in the wake of the collapse of Air Lib and Aeris, Herbane says that easyJet received 14,000, or around 15% of the total, compared with 5% for the Air France group. "That is not what I would call unfavourable to easyJet," he says. Other low-cost carriers received 46% of the slots. "Some succeeded, some went bankrupt," says Herbane. "But just because you are the second biggest carrier does not mean you should be the only airline to get slots."

Winter argues that the end result was the important thing. "In the UK, which is liberalised, British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair are pretty even. A liberalised market should provide access," he says pointing out that over two-and-a-half years, easyJet has built up a London Gatwick fleet of 16 aircraft, while it has just five at Orly.

However, Danielle B...nadon, director for air transport at the French civil aviation authority, responds that many of the problems lie in the fact that Orly has an absolute cap on slots for environmental reasons.

"You have had no problems in Nice. As soon as you choose to operate in one of the most congested airports in Europe you should be aware that life will not be as easy as in Nice," she told Winter. "If you had tried starting operations in Heathrow, you would have had even worse problems." EasyJet's build-up in Gatwick has been eased by the retrenchment of British Airways from its second hub.


Source: Airline Business