In a classic case of back scratching, Air Littoral plans to develop Nice airport as a hub from October as a part of its strategy to establish itself as a major regional player in southern Europe.

The Montpellier-based carrier signed an agreement with the airport's operator, Nice chamber of commerce and industry, in June. This will see the French independent set up a separate subsidiary, Air Littoral Riviera.

In return the airport has committed to improving the infrastructure 'to facilitate the hub and spoke concept,' says Lucilla Battiston, marketing manager at Nice airport.

The carrier plans to sell 34 per cent of its Riviera subsidiary to local investors in France and Italy and does not exclude the airport operator taking a stake.

Initially, the carrier will take over Air Littoral's existing 18 regional and European routes out of Nice, using its parent's aircraft, with all service going at least double daily. By 1998, the business plan calls for the carrier to operate 34 routes with 20 dedicated aircraft in four waves to link the 'Sun Belt', one of Europe's most affluent regions.

A hub at Nice is central to Air Littoral's future strategy to establish itself as a major regional player in southern Europe and the carrier wants to set up a third hub. Steven Horner, Air Littoral's manager corporate strategy, says he is evaluating five potential hubs in the region and does not exclude going outside France.

The deal signals the end of a four-year campaign by the airport to establish Nice as the central hub for the 'Sun Belt', stretching from northern Spain and southern France into northern Italy, Switzerland and southern Germany.

Mark Odell

Source: Airline Business