EasyJet is to attack alleged anti-competitive behaviour in the French air transport industry by launching two separate court cases in France during in the next few weeks. EasyJet will be accusing Air France of holding a "fortress position" in the French air transport sector, and French airports of being anti-competitive.

The airline will also lodge its complaints with the European Commission, says Ray Webster, the low-cost carrier's chief executive. "We have no other option left open to us," he says. Webster believes the air transport situation in France "is clearly unsustainable and has to be fixed". He blames the recent run of French regional airline bankruptcies on this situation.

"We only have seven aircraft operating out of France, and yet we are the second largest carrier in the country [after Air France]." In 2003 EasyJet carried 3.2 million passengers to and from France, compared with 44.1 million for Air France and its subsidiaries.

"This huge gap is a clear illustration of dominance," Webster says. "Maybe 50- 65 aircraft would be balanced competition. This would be the right size for a city like Paris." Meanwhile EasyJet has called for a capacity freeze on Air France at Paris airports. Air France insists the French transport market is competitive, and points out that the TGV high speed rail service has taken 15% of travellers out of the domestic air travel market in the past three years.

"No other European market is under the hegemony of its traditional national airline the way France is," says Webster. He points out that Air France holds 74% of the domestic market and has 53% of the slots at Paris Orly and 74% at Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Webster accuses slot attributor COHOR of being too closely linked with Air France - three of the organisation's seven committee members are from Air France or its subsidiaries. Webster also maintains that it is illegal for COHOR to order airlines to use slots for routes it chooses. COHOR insists any carrier can join its administrative council, and that it is a funding committee whose constitution does not allow it to intervene in the slot allocation process.

Webster says Aeroports de Paris is anti-competitive because the airport authority charges the same for airlines whichever terminal is used. "We use terminal 3 at Charles de Gaulle airport and have to pay exactly the same charge as Air France pays for its new terminal 2F," he says.



Source: Flight International