AIRLINES, WHICH have been taking advantage of liberalisation, to compete with French domestic carrier Air Inter at Paris Orly Airport, are reaping the benefits of continuing strikes at the Air France subsidiary.

Since January, AOM and Air Liberte have been operating flights to Marseilles and Toulouse respectively - two of the most profitable routes in France.

The two airlines have seen a surge in load factors and have increased capacity to cater for passengers hit by the trouble at Air Inter.

Both have introduced McDonnell Douglas DC-10s and Airbus A300s, in place of McDonnell Douglas MD-83s, to fly the routes. Air Liberte has recorded an increase in monthly traffic, from 29,000 passengers in January to 46,000 in March, with load factors rising by four points, to 71%, while AOM has seen traffic between Orly and Marseilles increase from 19,800 to 42,300. The airline saw load factors go up, from 42% in February to 63% in March.

There are few positive signs that the strikes at Air Inter are coming to an end. The latest stoppage, due on 9-10 April, was to have been the fourth in a series which has cost the airline at least Fr100 million ($20 million).

The action is because of the threat of 660 job losses when Air France and Air Inter combine their European operations to form a new European airline. The dispute also centres on productivity agreements, deemed necessary if Air Inter is to remain competitive.

Air France President Christian Blanc, increasingly concerned about the competition, now wants to bring forward the planned start of the new European airline by, according to one source, "at least several months", from 1997. He has formed five groups representing union interests to discuss the plan, which will joint other working parties now planning the future airline.

Air Liberte has made clear its interest in taking over AOM, owned by the troubled Credit Lyonnais. AOM recorded a loss of Fr207 million in 1994 on a turnover of Fr2.8 billion, and has required more than Fr1.1 billion of financing in the last four years.

Source: Flight International