Two experiments in market segmentation are gearing up in France, while another in the UK is trying to raise the cash to begin operating.

In late January, Air France launched a service specifically to connect Paris with destinations that are major oil and gas producing areas, while start-up Premium Airways wants to launch all-business-class operations from the French capital to New York later this year.

Although it has studied a transatlantic business-only service, Air France dismisses the idea for the time being, preferring instead to launch Dedicate, a project it first began studying in 1997. Dedicate-branded routes will operate from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) with a fleet of five two-class 82-seat Airbus A319s. The first services are to Pointe Noire in the Republic of the Congo and Malabo in Equatorial Guinea. Later this year it will add services to Kuwait, Doha, Kish Island in Iran, Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Atyrau in Kazakhstan.

Air France has been prompted to launch its Dedicate routes, which are expected to carry 60,000 passengers every year, by large corporations that want direct services to their oil and gas production sites, says Bruno Matheu, executive vice-president marketing and network management at Air France. It is a niche product that demonstrates the carrier's ability to bring new styles of service to particular markets, he says, adding: "We hope it will be profitable quite rapidly."

Premium Airways, backed by private investors from Europe and the Middle East, is aiming to begin daily Boeing 757 operations from Paris CDG to New York JFK by the summer, says its founder Jerome Maillet. Although it will be a business-class only service, with the aircraft configured for 80 seats at 52in (133cm) pitch and with features like in-flight internet access, the fares will be 40-50% below regular business class prices, he says. The airline is planning to out-source the operation of the 757 to a US carrier and is seeking further financing to bring in a second 757 to increase frequencies between Paris and New York to twice daily.

As Premium works to get started, UK-based Blue Fox Airlines is still talking to potential investors about launching an all business-class transatlantic venture with flights from a dedicated terminal at London Stansted to New York using Boeing 767-300ERs. Its founder Michael Lordcastle recently signed with US investment bank Houlihan, Lokey, Howard and Zukin to work with investors in the venture.


Source: Airline Business