easyJet and Ryanair increasingly challenging Air France on regional domestic service in France

Pictured: Charles de Gaulle (left) Michael O' Leary (middle) and Carolyn McCall (right)

easyJet helps Charles de Gaulle growth. Low-cost airlines have eroded the national carrier's hold, although the overall effect of competition has been overwhelmingly beneficial in substantially stimulating the French domestic market.

The French domestic market is dominated by flights to and from Paris’ two major airports; Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY). Last year, according to figures from Aéroport de Paris, domestic traffic at these two airports was up 7.2% and accounted for 18.9% of total passengers. Since around 2004, seat capacity in the French domestic market has been relatively stable. Prior to that, the existence of Air Littoral and Air Liberte/Air Lib had provided some competition to Air France. However, once these airlines ceased operating, Air France had a virtual monopoly on the domestic market with CCM Airlines/Air Corsica (in which Air France has a small stake) focusing on routes to Corsica.

French domestic market 2000-2012 Annual seat capacity by airline (millions)

Source: OAG iNet

easyJet entered the French domestic market in 2002 with several routes from its bases at Paris CDG and Orly, while Ryanair did not operate any French domestic routes until 2008.

anna.aero’s editor, Ralph Anker, gives a special briefing on route development at FrenchConnect Lille 2011

anna.aero’s editor Ralph Anker gives a special briefing on route development at FrenchConnect Lille 2011: Anker is again booked for FrenchConnect 2012 at Disneyland Paris, hosted by Paris-Vatry Airport. For more details on this superb show, click here.

LCCs having impact on regional domestic routes

The first attempt by Europe’s major LCCs to break into the French regional domestic market (routes that do not involve Paris) was not until the summer of 2008 when easyJet began double-daily flights from its Lyon base to Bordeaux and Toulouse, which were both annual markets of around 250,000 (Air France) passengers.

French inter-regional routes 2000-2011 Annual passengers

Source: Individual airport traffic reports

Despite opening a base in Marseille in November 2006, it was a further two years before Ryanair began domestic flights, to Brest and Lille. This helped to propel the Marseille – Lille route from tenth (in 2007) to third (in 2009). Of the top 12 regional domestic routes in 2011, the only ones not to have been stimulated by LCC activity were the Corsican routes to Ajaccio and Bastia from Marseille and Nice, and Marseille to Bordeaux.

Vueling joins easyJet and Ryanair in 2011

During 2011, Europe’s fourth biggest LCC Vueling launched its first French regional domestic routes from its mini-base in Toulouse to Nice (in April) and Lille (in October). The Toulouse – Nice service will end shortly, but easyJet will commence daily flights against Air France on the route at the start of the summer season. By also starting Toulouse – Lille flights this summer, easyJet will be competing directly with Vueling and Air France. At the same time, easyJet will introduce four domestic routes from Nice, all of which will compete directly with Air France. Although Marseille is no longer a designated base for Ryanair, it is still planning to launch daily flights between Marseille and Bordeaux from the start of the summer season, representing the first time that this city pair has been served by a major LCC.

The following is a chronological listing of all the regional domestic routes started by major LCCs in France and the current competition provided on the route.

Launch date Route Airline (WF1) Competition (WF2)
4 April 2008 Lyon – Bordeaux easyJet (12) Air France (30)
2 May 2008 Lyon – Toulouse easyJet (14) Air France (36)
7 June 2008 Lyon – Biarritz easyJet (2)* Air France (19)
27 October 2008 Marseille – Brest Ryanair (4) Air France (7)
28 October 2008 Marseille – Lille Ryanair (7) Air France (18)
12 December 2008 Lyon – Bastia easyJet (2)
30 March 2009 Marseille – Biarritz Ryanair (3)* Air France (3)
30 March 2009 Marseille – Nantes Ryanair (7) Air France (24)
31 March 2009 Marseille – Tours Ryanair (3)
2 November 2009 Lyon – Nantes easyJet (7) Air France (37)
4 November 2010 Lyon – Nice easyJet (4) Air France (21)
5 November 2010 Lyon – Brest easyJet (4) Air France (19)
27 March 2011 Toulouse – Nantes easyJet (5) Air France (18), Airlinair (9)
23 April 2011 Toulouse – Nice Vueling (4)* Air France (18), easyJet (7)
3 October 2011 Toulouse – Lille Vueling (6) Air France (18), easyJet (4)
25 March 2012 Marseille – Bordeaux Ryanair (7) Air France (24)
26 March 2012 Toulouse – Lille easyJet (3) Air France (18), Vueling (6)
26 March 2012 Nice – Toulouse easyJet (7) Air France (18)
30 March 2012 Nice – Bordeaux easyJet (4) Air France (14)
30 March 2012 Nice – Lille easyJet (4) Air France (9)
30 March 2012 Nice – Nantes easyJet (5) Air France (10)
7 April 2012 Lyon – Ajaccio easyJet (2) Air Corsica (3)
Source: anna.aero new route database. Competitor information for w/c 4 June 2012. WF1: weekly frequency when launched. WF2: weekly frequency for w/c 4 June 2012.

*Not operated in w/c 4 June 2012.

It is also worth noting some niche carriers that have identified opportunities in the French regional domestic market. In 2010, UK regional carrier Eastern Airways launched flights from Dijon and currently serves Nantes and Toulouse with Jetstream 41s, while Chalair, which operates Beech 1900s, has introduced flights between Lille and Brest, as well as Lyon and Le Havre.


  1. Can you see a future where smaller nimble airlines with lower cost bases operate short haul flights for full service airlines on all but the busiest routes, to compete with the budget airlines? This model seems to be popular in the US and is something Flybe will do for Brussels Airlines (which is part owned by Lufthansa) later this year. I can see it working better than the new Iberia Express (I’m thinking back to BA’s Go !).

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