KLM's UK subsidiary aims to improve its standing in the European low fare arena

Buzz, the London Stansted-based low fare arm of KLM, has unveiled an aggressive network expansion plan for 2002 as it seeks to assert itself in the French market by adding 13 new routes.

From the end of March, the airline will add nine new French destinations from Stansted - Brest, Caen, Dijon, Bergerac, Grenoble, Limoges, Rouen, Toulon-St Tropez and Tours, boosting its French network to 15 destinations.

The airline will serve more points in France from the UK than any other carrier, and expects its passenger traffic to rise by 56% next year as a result of the expansion. Services from London to Helsinki and Milan are being dropped to provide capacity for the French expansion.

"As the last player to enter the [European] low fare market, having at least one country where we are the strongest helps us move up the pecking order," says commercial director Tony Camacho.

Buzz has also added four French domestic services from points it already serves from London: Bordeaux to Grenoble and Toulon, Brest-Marseilles and Toulouse-Grenoble. Camacho says that the airline has chosen to fly east-west routes where there are poor connections. "We've taken care not to go head-to-head with the TGV high speed train," he says.

Spun off from KLMuk in1999, Buzz operates eight BAe 146-300s and two Boeing 737-300s. According to Camacho, the airline increased its capacity by 16% in 2001 and will expand by a further 20% next year, purely through better aircraft utilisation and increased flying.

"It's taken time to get from being a medium-cost operator to a fully low-cost carrier," he says.

Next year, Buzz expects to finalise a long-term fleet plan, as some of its BAe 146 leases are due to expire in early 2003. "Clearly if we were operating an all-737 fleet today we would have a better return," says Comacho, suggesting the airline is likely to standardise on the Boeing twinjet.

Parent company KLM, which also has the "no frills" Basiq Air brand in the Netherlands, has been evaluating its long term future in the low cost market sector.

Although it says that following the terrorist attacks in the USA, it is "profiting from having low cost divisions, as the traditional airline market has fallen back", KLM will not decide on its long-term strategy in the sector until the airline business "settles down".

Source: Flight International