Easyjet prepared to sue in France row

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The Independent Online

Easyjet yesterday launched a campaign to loosen Air France's stranglehold on its domestic market, threatening court action over the "raw deal" French travellers are getting.

The budget airline entered the French home market in July last year but its growth has been constrained by not being able to get enough take-off and landing slots.

Ray Webster, easyJet's chief executive, said at a press conference in Paris: "We have spent three years working with the government and advisers to try to find solutions, without success. Now we intend to take direct action."

No other major European country is so dominated by its national airline, according to easyJet, with Air France accounting for 74 per cent of the sector. The British-based carrier said that high take-off and landing charges at the two main Paris airports, plus the low penetration of low-cost airlines, meant less choice and "unnaturally high" air fares for French consumers.

"The process for the allocation of take-off and landing slots at the two main Paris airports has only served to increase the dominance of Air France in the capital city," said easyJet.

Mr Webster said the company subsidises other airlines by paying the same landing fee at Charles de Gaulle airport's Terminal 3 as airlines pay at more luxurious terminals. Such practices are illegal, he claimed, adding that complaints may by filed with the European Union or in a French court within the next few weeks.

Budget airlines account for only 4 per cent of domestic air travel in France, compared with 42 per cent in the UK and 18 per cent in Germany, according to easyJet. "Serious structural changes are necessary to get a better deal for the French traveller", Mr Webster said.