Air France decided against a full merger of the three airlines as “too complex and with no benefit for the customer.” Synergies are expected from combining sales, purchase, marketing and head office functions. Coinciding with the new structure and branding, Air France is further reducing the fleet and network. Between 2011-14 approximately 37 routes will be trimmed and the fleet will be reduced by 21 aircraft. ATR aircraft will probably remain, but Bombardier CRJ100s and most Embraer ERJ 135/145s will be phased out.
Airlinair operates 24 ATR 42/72s, Regional operates Embraer aircraft of various types (ERJ 135/145, E-170 and E-190), and Brit Air's fleet comprises Bombardier CRJ100/700/1000s.
“The business plan of HOP! identifies the need for a larger regional aircraft than we currently deploy. But this will not be before 2016,” de Juniac says. Brit Air's CRJ1000s and Regional's E-190s are configured with 100 seats.
The new HOP! structure and branding exercise is part of the Air France KLM Group's Transform 2015 restructuring plan, which seeks to restore profitability and reduce expenses by €2 billion ($271 billion). The plan includes repositioning Air France's heavily loss-making short- and medium-haul operations into three units—Air France mainline, Transavia.com and HOP!
Transavia.com France caters specifically to the leisure segment and offers low-cost flights. Earlier this month, Air France announced a revamp of the pricing structure and service offering of the short- and medium-haul Air France flights from/to Paris Orly and its provincial bases at Marseille, Nice and Toulouse. HOP! will have a similar fare structure and the lowest-fare class offers no free frequent-flier miles or complimentary checked baggage.
Air France will simultaneously become the sole shareholder of Airlinair and acquire the 60% stake held by Financiere Linair, the company controlled by Lionel Guerin who founded the airline in 1998. Air France's wholly owned subsidiary Brit Air holds 40% of Airlinair.
At the same time, more and more independent regionals are disappearing. OLT Express halted flight operations Jan. 27 after a last-ditch effort to finance a turnaround plan failed. OLT stated that its new owner, Panta Holdings, did not accept a restructuring strategy that management and employees had agreed on.
OLT is the latest victim in the moribund German regional airlines sector and at least one more carrier is expected to exit the scene later this year. Cirrus Airlines was the first to declare bankruptcy last year. Eurowings, a Lufthansa subsidiary, was forced to seriously downsize its fleet. Similar steps were taken at Lufthansa CityLine. Later, Stuttgart-based Contact Air lost its wet-lease flying for Lufthansa and was close to being shut down, only to be picked up by OLT Express late last year.
OLT Express itself was formerly a small carrier serving the German islands in the North Sea with small aircraft, but later turned into a regional carrier. It was bought by a Polish private equity firm in 2012, which collapsed subsequently, and was rescued by Dutch investor Panta Holdings soon after.
The airline was managed by Joachim Klein, a former Eurowings executive. He tried to build an independent regional network based on markets that have been neglected by other regionals and low-fare airlines. But the takeover of Contact Air and the start-up losses on new routes, many of them between Germany and Austria, proved too much of a financial burden. OLT closed down several of its newly launched routes in December.