While airline rivals Corsair and Air Austral announced in August that talks were ongoing over a potential joint venture, the process is reportedly facing protests from trade unions in La Réunion, who gathered in front of city hall on Sunday to protest the “forced marriage” between the two carriers, and fearing for their jobs.
“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.
The joint venture was proposed to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by improving the two carriers’ balance sheets and reinforcing 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 and Africa.
“Against the backdrop of the ongoing health crisis, which is affecting the long-term profitability of the aviation industry, Air Austral and Corsair have decided to initiate discussions with a view to agreeing a commercial cooperation (JV) on these routes,” the two airlines jointly stated last August.
The proposed JV between the two airlines hoped to pool their resources, creating cost synergies and boosting profitability, while both carriers getting to keep their own identity and brand independence, but was subject to approvals from the companies’ labor groups and by the French competition authorities.
Air Austral is based at Saint-Denis — the capital city of La Réunion — which is a French Overseas Department in the Indian Ocean.
Due to this status, the La Réunion island is part of the European Union EU and 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.
Funfact: 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.
By Victor Shalton Odhiambo