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Air France budget flights next year?

New project, Air France Express, could offer low-cost domestic services to Nice, Marseille and Toulouse from 2011

AIR France has moved one step closer to launching a low-cost operation to rival Ryanair and Easyjet.

According to Les Echos, the new service will be called Air France Express. It could start offering domestic flights next year.

The low-cost subsidiary will use Nice, Marseille and Toulouse as bases. Planes will make several return trips in a day, returning to the base at night to avoid paying for hotel accommodation for staff.

Company sources told the paper that Air France pilots and cabin crew would be given the opportunity to volunteer to move to the low-cost service. Air France has declined to comment on the plans.

News of Air France’s plans first emerged in January, when La Tribune revealed that the airline was looking to use 186-seater planes to provide low-cost services from the Côte d’Azur to the rest of France.

The aim is to improve efficiency at regional airports, with faster flight turnarounds, fewer check-in staff and more outsourced work.

Air France already owns a low-cost subsidiary, Transavia, which specialises in European short-haul flights from Paris Orly airport.

Easyjet and Ryanair are both well-established in the French domestic flights market.

Ryanair uses Marseille as a base to serve Biarritz, Tours, Lille, Nantes and Beauvais, while Easyjet offers flights from its Lyon base to Bordeaux, Toulouse, Biarritz and Nantes.

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