A new low-cost, high-frills French airline entered the cutthroat transatlantic market on Friday with an all-business class service aimed at cost-conscious “Paryorkers”.
The made-up catchword, derived from Paris and New York, is the slogan for a daily round-trip service between the two cities to be operated by start-up airline L’Avion from Dec. 27.
The airline began taking reservations on Friday and changed its brand name from Elysair after market research found, to the airline’s surprise, that Americans as well as French people warmed to the simple French word for “aeroplane”.
“We chose the name for its ‘French touch’. We will have French cuisine and wine too,” said former AOM-Air Liberte chief Marc Rochet, chief executive of L’Avion’s operating company.
For 1,600 euros ($2,118) roundtrip, travellers will be able to fly between Paris’s second airport, Orly, and Newark, New Jersey, the second-largest intercontinental airport serving New York.
That compares with an Air France KLM business fare on L’Avion’s Dec. 27 inaugural day of about 2,700 euros, as quoted on the Franco-Dutch airline’s Web site on Thursday. Four other traditional carriers also serve the Paris-New York route.
L’Avion is targeting business class passengers who are sensitive to price and willing to trade cost for the greater number of connections available on the main carriers, the airline said. Others will be full-paying economy travellers.
Rochet estimated the size of the market at about 300,000 journeys a year, of which he aims to capture 28,000 in year one.
The operating company, whose name will remain Elysair for legal purposes, particularly wants to attract customers in the south of Paris — a distant commute from the city’s main airport Charles de Gaulle situated to the city’s north.
L’Avion will offer six return flights a week using a single leased Boeing 757-200, which will be fitted out with 90 business-class seats instead of the usual 200 all-class layout.
Budget airline growth
The airline said it had arrangements in place in the event of technical problems on its single plane and would contract out all the maintenance to a unit of Germany’s Lufthansa.
L’Avion is not the first airline to marry lower-cost travel with premium-quality services, with Maxjet offering a similar deal between the United States and London. Two other start-ups are muscling into the London-New York route, Rochet said.
Pressured by the popularity of low-cost travel, classical airlines, many of them privatised, are starting up their own low-cost subsidiaries to try to stem the haemorrhage in traffic.
But Rochet said these airlines were preoccupied with low-cost rivals in the short- to medium-range market, leaving an opportunity to try something new on the Paris-New York route.
A previous French budget airline with premium services, Fairlines, went bust by competing with the major airlines on short European routes, for which flight frequency matters most to business clients, according to Elysair’s Rochet.
Elysair remained tight-lipped about its backers except to say they include a holding company of the Rothschild banking group, Cie Financiere St Honore, which has a minority stake. Elysair Chairman Christophe Bejach is also a member of the same holding company’s executive board. Private investors put up a total of 25 million euros in cash to start up the airline, which aims to break even in 18 to 24 months.