The ‘new’ Regional builds from bottom up

 - November 26, 2007, 12:15 PM

Events have moved fast since the establishment last November of Regional Compagnie Aérienne Européenne, the new integrated Air France subsidiary that merges the former Regional Airlines, Flandre Air and Proteus Airlines into a single entity. In an interview with Aviation International News, Jacques Bankir, Regional’s managing director, spoke with optimism about the future of the company, formed in April with a collection of 75 airplanes and 1,500 employees from the three former independent airlines.

“As far as we are concerned, Regional is a new airline which is presently undergoing a head-to-foot restructuring,” said Bankir, a 30-year industry executive whose résumé includes terms with CityJet, AOM, Air France and Air Tahiti Nui. “We are building from the bottom up.” The three airlines that now comprise the new company boarded about 2.6 million passengers from April 2000 to April 2001 and was “already on target” to maintain that level. However, Bankir stressed that projections could change because Regional remained “in the midst of a deep-seated restructuring exercise.”

France benefits from a highly developed regional airline network, with about 1,200 regional flights taking off daily on weekdays. Air France and its partners account for more than two thirds of all those flights and Regional for half of
the Air France regional flights, or
in simpler terms, one third of all regional flights in France. The company operates three Fokker 100s, seven Saab 2000s, 33 Embraer ERJ-135/145s and 18 Embraer 120s. Fourteen former Proteus Beech 1900s fly for a small affiliate company based in Angers, central France, called R-Lines. Regional also expects delivery of six more Embraer 145s, four next year and the last two in 2003. Bankir said
the airline also holds an undisclosed number of options for more Embraer aircraft. He would not offer details, but Embraer ERJ-170s from the previous incarnation of Regional Airlines dropped off Embraer’s sales ledgers amid uncertainties over the status of the carrier.

“The next step,” said Bankir, will involve adding 70- and 100-seaters after 2004. “We are studying the situation and watching developments very closely.” He said
that ultimately Regional would like to reduce the types of aircraft in the fleet to all jets. “The Fokker 100 is a transitional aircraft and the Saabs are left over from past efforts,” said Bankir. “We would seek to sell the F-100s, but not before bringing in the new Embraers or maybe Fairchild Dorniers, which are natural successors. Selling the Saabs is a matter of opportunity.”

Bankir said Regional had begun overhauling its winter schedules, which, when complete, would likely include 470 flights a day, making Regional “probably one of the largest European airlines, based on the number of flights.” The new schedules include Paris Orly to Avignon in the south of France and to Saint Etienne
in central France and from Orly to Hamburg and Nuremburg, Germany, on behalf of Air France. Regional also planned to “beef up our Clermont-Ferrand hub from four banks of 12 aircraft to four banks of 18 aircraft and new regional destinations,” said Bankir. “We are opening a route between Dublin and enhancing our other hub at Bordeaux with connecting flights to the south of France, Spain and Portugal.”

Regional chose Nantes, in western France, as its headquarters to minimize employee displacement. Bankir called Nantes a “very pleasant city, one in which Regional Airlines was based and the least inconvenient for the other two airlines, which were based in northern and central France.” The airline plans to double the amount of space at the headquarters by November to accommodate more personnel from Lille, Dijon and Saint Etienne. It also expects to keep and enhance its three maintenance centers, which together employ 400 people at Saint Etienne, Clermont- Ferrand and Lille.
Asked about Brit Air, which now also flies as a 100-percent Air France subsidiary, Bakir said he did not expect the Brittany-based airline to become part of the new Regional structure. “Brit Air is a healthy airline with 20 years of partnership with Air France and operates CRJs while the three airlines that now form Regional are very young, were born as a result of deregulation and all had Embraer aircraft,” reminded Bankir.  “But the activities of the two units are complementary. At this stage there is no reason to assume that it would be efficient for an already successful Brit Air to go in with Regional.”

Asked how he planned to succeed in an environment as difficult, if not more so, than that prevalent during the years prior to the merger, Bankir pointed primarily to the economies-of-scale benefits and resources the larger company will enjoy. “The three former regional airlines had neither the size nor the financial means for the necessary investment in equipment and human resources,” he said. “We are engaged in a major construction exercise because we are bringing together three completely different airlines. But we are confident that we can attain the level of a large European airline. I feel we are on the right track.”