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Airline rivals expand at Nice

Air France and easyJet open new bases on Côte d'Azur to cut costs and open up new destinations

AIR France and easyJet have opened new operational bases at Nice Airport - and confirmed expansion plans there giving flights to 11 new destinations.

EasyJet has three new international destinations - Barcelona, Naples and Venice - and four in France, Bordeaux, Lille, Nantes and Toulouse. Air France has four new lines, to Athens, Naples, Tel-Aviv and Venice.

The two companies are fierce rivals at Nice - the busiest airport in France outside Paris - where Air France has a 30% share of the market (2.7 million people), mostly domestic flights but also to Tunis. EasyJet has 21% - but while Air France passenger numbers show only a slight growth of 1.7% easyJet has seen numbers soar 18.2%.

However, Air France has been rocked by the after-effects of strike action - it lost €800 million last year - and unions have called a new strike for March 30. The strike, over plans to cut costs, is not being supported by pilots or other aircrew so only ground staff will be affected.

Its plans for Nice mean basing eight plans and their crews there to cut costs - by as much as 15% - allowing fares as low as €50 single to its destinations.

Nice saw 10.4 million passengers last year but 2012 so far has shown zero growth. That has hurt the French airline with numbers 7.7% down - although easyJet saw a 5% rise.

Increasing passenger numbers have driven the easyJet expansion at Nice where it is now basing two Airbus 319 aircraft and also at Toulouse where it has opened another base. The company now has five bases in France - Paris Orly and Charles de Gaulle, Lyon, Toulouse and Nice - the most of all its markets.

Nice Airport sees the new bases giving the potential for more passengers - 350,000 for easyJet alone - and it is examining plans for a new €82m low-cost terminal beside Terminal 2 with a capacity of 4m passengers.

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