A French regional authority has taken over the ailing family-owned Air Atlantique regional airline, boosted its operations and brought new life back to the city of Le Havre’s airport as the center of a new network of regional and European routes served by ATR 42-300s.
Air Atlantique in January opened its first regular route under its own colors and different ownership. The airline started its operations from Rouen via Le Havre, both in northwest France, to the southwestern city of Toulouse using an ATR 42-300. Two more routes, Caen-Brussels and Nantes-Amsterdam, via Le Havre, have since opened, both using the twin turboprops. All routes offer two round-trip flights five days a week. A seasonal link from Rennes, western France, to London via Le Havre is due to open before this summer, requiring operation of a fourth ATR 42.
The relaunch of traffic based on the Le Havre area follows the purchase of 70.62 percent of Air Atlantique capital by the Seine-Maritime District Council, one of France’s 96 administrative departments. The nearby District of Calvados is participating in the venture, acquiring a 10.82-percent share in the airline, while the cities of Le Havre and Rouen hold, respectively, a 0.82-percent and 0.22-percent share. The Mossé family, Air Atlantique’s former owner, retains 17.51 percent of the company.
Charter specialist Air Atlantique hit rock bottom in September 2000 when Air France stopped all its Le Havre-based routes less than a year after it took control of Regional Airlines, which had operated half the flights originating at that airport. Le Havre’s traffic fell from 140,000 passengers in 1999 to 60,000 in 2001. The new operator aims to return to 1999 levels within three years and boost tourist and cultural traffic for northwestern France. Air Atlantique’s roster of 65 employees, including 45 pilots and flight attendants, is expected to swell soon when a fourth ATR starts service on the seasonal route.