Air France takes on low-cost carriers from provinces

Air France said Monday it was to launch cheap medium-haul flights from French provincial cities in a bid to boost passenger figures and reclaim market share from low-cost carriers.

French-Dutch aviation giant Air France-KLM announced that, starting on October 2, 13 new flights would link the southern city of Marseille to destinations in France, Europe and the Mediterranean.

"Air France will offer one-way fares starting at 50 euros ($70) including tax," a statement said.

The destinations offered as part of the carrier's Marseille hub include Biarritz, Milan, Prague, Moscow, Beirut and Casablanca.

Air France stressed that passengers would enjoy the same services as on any other of the airline's flights and not the limited services offered by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair or easyJet.

"The implementation of this new strategy is based on a significant reduction in operational costs, of around 15 percent," the statement said.

Air France explained it planned to achieve that target by using a single aircraft type - the Airbus A320 - as well as by optimising flight schedules and basing its crews in the provinces.

The Marseille model should be replicated in other French cities - such as Nice, Toulouse and Bordeaux - as early as March 2012.

CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said the company hopes the new project "will enable its medium-haul operations to regain profitable growth."

Bruno Matheu, executive vice president of marketing, told AFP that the new strategy should boost the airline's passenger figures by four million a year from the current 45 million.

He also said it should generate an extra 400 to 500 billion euros (560 to 700 million dollars) in annual turnover.

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