Chairman Christian Blanc is using the UK market to trial his plans to merge Air France's European operations with Air Inter - already legally known as Air France Europe.

Air France's sister carrier is taking over all operations on routes from Paris/Orly and the French regional destinations to London/Heathrow from the end of March. Air France Europe will carry both the AF and IT codes on its new routes.

The official merger of the two carriers cannot take place until 1997 because of state aid conditions and the route transfer is aimed at obtaining commercial synergies earlier. The routes represent 30-35 per cent of Air France's UK business and, as the traffic is primarily leisure, Air Inter's lower frills product is suited to the routes, says Air France.

Just to confuse matters further, the operations will run under the commercial name of Air Inter Europe - aircraft will have Air France tails, but the Air Inter Europe branding on the fuselage.

As part of the build up to the merger Blanc has reorganised his management team. Auguste Gayte, the current deputy chief executive of Air Inter becomes the deputy chief executive of the Air France Group, while Marc Veron, deputy chief executive of Air France moves up to chief executive.

The shake up follows the departure of strategy guru Rakesh Gangwal, who followed his former boss and erstwhile Air France consultant Stephen Wolf to USAir. Not only had Gangwal revitalised the carrier's strategy but he takes that knowledge with him. 'This could be very useful to British Airways,' suggests one Paris analyst.

Sara Guild

Source: Airline Business