Air Inter - History


On 23 February 1960, France's Ministry of Public Works and Transport decided to transfer Air France's domestic monopoly to Air Inter. This provided the impetus for Air Inter to start scheduled services within metropolitan France, as well as between the mainland and Corsica. Though a private sector company because of its limited liability status, Air Inter was compelled to operate unprofitable regional domestic routes to justify its domestic monopoly on profitable routes from Paris.

Air Inter primarily operated high-frequency scheduled internal flights from Paris Orly to cities in metropolitan France, principally Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Mulhouse. Following the opening of Charles de Gaulle Airport near the northern Paris suburb of Roissy-en-France and the transfer of the bulk of Air France's international operations from Orly to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle from 1974, as well as the simultaneous transfer of UTA's Le Bourget-based operation to that airport, Air Inter began serving these routes from Charles de Gaulle as well (with the exception of Nice) to feed domestic passengers into those airlines' international networks.

Air Inter also linked Orly with additional second and third-tier provincial French towns as well as with all three commercial airports on Corsica (Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi). The airline operated regional domestic scheduled routes between major French cities as well.

Many of Air Inter's routes serving smaller towns were contracted to TAT.

Prior to the liberalisation of the internal air market in the European Union (EU) during the early 1990s, Air Inter was a pillar of the French air transport industry with Air France, UTA and TAT.

During that period Air Inter had a large share of the domestic market. It was the only airline plying most of the domestic trunk routes within metropolitan France on a regular scheduled basis, especially from and to Paris. The exceptions were Paris-Nice and Paris-Basle/Mulhouse. Air Inter's flights between Paris Orly and Nice competed with Air France's Paris Charles de Gaulle — Nice, and Orly—Nice flights. Air Inter competed head-on with Swissair, the former Swiss flag carrier, between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Basle/Mulhouse.

The difference between the competing Air Inter and Swissair services on this route was that the former's passengers had to use the terminal at Basle/Mulhouse airport through the domestic channel that connected the airport to the French city of Mulhouse, whereas the latter's used the international channel that linked the airport with the Swiss city of Basle. For this reason, Air Inter's flights were categorised as domestic while Swissair's were international.

In addition, UTA had limited rights to carry passengers, cargo and mail on the internal legs of its long-haul services, between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon, Marseille, Nice as well as Bordeaux. However, flights were too infrequent to pose a threat to Air Inter.

SNCF, one of Air Inter's two largest public sector shareholders, was also the company's main competitor on domestic trunk routes inside France. This intensified when SNCF began high-speed, high-frequency Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) services on purpose-built tracks from 1981. The launch of TGV services between Paris and Lyon, one of Air Inter's busiest as well as shortest routes, in 1981 led to a reduction in frequency and smaller aircraft on Air Inter's competing service.

The only other domestic air routes on which Air Inter competed with Air France in the pre-liberalisation era were routes linking the mainland with Corsica.

In 1977 Air Inter purchased a 20% stake from Air France in the latter's charter affiliate Air Charter International, in return for ceasing to be a rival supplier of charter airline seats in the French inclusive tour market.

Annual passenger numbers on Air Inter's domestic scheduled network grew steadily to 21 million, actually beating Air France one year. This established the firm as the largest scheduled domestic airline in Europe.

Air Inter was also one of the few European ultra short-haul, mainline scheduled operators to be profitable most of the time and was a forerunner of today's low-cost airlines in Europe. Fares were lower than domestic air fares elsewhere in Europe and competing rail fares, with short turnarounds (35 minutes for a full 314-seat A300 was common), no seat allocation, no frills service on board and minimum crews.

On 1 January 1995 Air Inter lost its monopoly on the domestic trunk routes from Paris Orly. From that day, any EU-based rival was free to compete on these routes, without restrictions on capacity, frequency or fares.

The sale of controlling stakes in Air Inter and UTA to Air France, as well as integration of both of the former into the latter, was part of a French government plan to create a unified, national carrier with the economies of scale and global reach to counter threats from the liberalisation of the EU's internal air transport market.

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