By Vanni Gibertini
Air Austral Unions Concerned Over Proposed Joint Venture With Corsair
Last August, Corsair and Air Austral — two French airlines — announced they had started talks for a possible joint venture between the two companies in a move to improve the financial viability of both their operations. At the same time, both carriers looked to reinforce the connectivity not only between Metropolitan France and the French Overseas Department of La Réunion, where Air Austral is based but also with all the other destinations served by the two airlines in Canada, the Caribbean, Africa and other airports in the Indian Ocean.
The process to start the joint venture has met its first hurdle when last Sunday a group of over 100 people from the trade unions represented within Air Austral gathered in front of city hall to protest the “forced marriage” between the two carriers, as they fear employment levels will be affected.
“Air Austral is an important economic force at La Réunion, with over 400 million Euros ($456 million) of turnover and almost 900 direct employees, supporting over 3000 jobs in the island. [The purpose] of our action is to request a meeting with the Prefecture in order to obtain guarantees that the plan of the Government to combine the operations of the two airlines takes into account the social aspects of Air Austral’s role in the life of people in La Réunion” said Vivien Rousseau, President of the Air Austral Pilots Association to the local news site Linfo.re.
Air Austral is an airline based at Saint-Denis — the capital city of La Réunion — which is a French Overseas Department located in the Indian Ocean west of Madagascar. Due to this status, the island is defined as an “ultra-peripheral” territory of the European Union, meaning it is located outside the European continent, but it is to all extent and purposes part of the E.U. The flight from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport and Saint-Denis lasts over 11 hours, making it one of the longest domestic flights in the world.
The carrier connects Paris and other French cities within the European continent with the remote island, using a fleet of ten aircraft, three Boeing 777-300ERs, two Boeing 787 Dreamliners, two Boeing 737-800s and three recently-delivered Airbus A220-300s. Other countries served by the airline include India, Thailand, China, South Africa as well as other neighboring destinations in the Indian Ocean such as Mauritius, Seychelle and The Comores.
Corsair — based at Paris-Orly airport — employs 970 people mainly in metropolitan France and connects French communities in the Indian Ocean to other cities in France and beyond to the French Caribbean islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique, Ivory Coast in Africa and Montreal in Canada. It has a fleet of 8 aircraft comprising both old and new generation Airbus A330s.
The joint venture will allow Air Austral and Corsair to develop an offer that will naturally be advantageous to customers: better flight schedules, increased choices due to access to different airports with flights to both Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport and Paris’ Orly Airport, more choices of departure and arrival times, more destinations and connections due to the combination of the two networks. In addition, there potentially would be better fares both for passengers and for freight since cargo services are equally important for this remote location, Air Journal reports.
The project is intended to “preserve the identity and the independence” of the two airlines and make them more resistant to the competition that is extremely intense on the connection between Paris and La Réunion. There are in fact two more carriers providing services to the route, in addition to Air Austral and Corsair: flag carrier Air France is obviously catering for this market with its specially-configured 777-300ERs with 468 seats in a three-class configuration. Low-cost carrier French Bee also flies with its flagship Airbus A350-900 and is also code-sharing with Air Caraibes.