Yet again political expediency is muddying the debate over Air Inter's future, as its merger with Air France Europe looks set to be sidelined to minimise social unrest.

Christian Blanc, who took over the chair of Air Inter when Michel Bernard unexpectedly resigned in mid-May, has proposed an alternative to combining the two carriers.

Instead, Air Inter would stay separate and be based at Paris/Orly airport, with Air France's operations remaining concentrated at Charles de Gaulle. Air Inter would fly domestically and cover some European routes with a 'simpler style product', while Air France would concentrate on the international product, explains a source at Air Inter.

Bernard resigned following a series of strikes by Air Inter unions, which are unhappy at the proposed merger with Air France. The consensus is that Bernard left partly out of frustration and partly because he was pushed.

Blanc's proposal is timed to give the new French government an option on what action to take at Air Inter. Difficulties with the merger option included transferring 7,700 Air France staff to the new operation and potential questions from Brussels about the transfer of funding between the two, which is currently restricted by the state aid ruling.

But Blanc's proposal has obvious drawbacks. The capacity cap at Orly will constrain Air Inter's development and the carrier would compete with Air France on some European routes. One source says the merger would prove best for Air Inter's future but that the 'two airport' option will be chosen to 'make the problems go away'.

Source: Airline Business