HOP! (A5, Paris Orly) is to become an all-Embraer carrier and be re-integrated into the Air France (AF, Paris CDG) brand as a much smaller, regional feeder carrier, according to Air France-KLM Chief Executive Ben Smith.

This formed part of a comprehensive plan - put together before COVID-19 but accelerated by the pandemic - to simplify the Air France offering in the domestic market; and to simplify the brand portfolio and the fleet, he said during the recent Routes Reconnected virtual conference.

He said Air France was losing EUR200 million (USD242.5 million) a year in the domestic market before COVID-19. Part of the problem had been a “very expensive regional operation under the branding of HOP!”. The carrier had been the amalgamation of HOP!-Airlinair (AN, Paris Orly), HOP!-Brit Air (DB, Morlaix) and HOP!-Régional (YS, Clermont-Ferrand). The brand was created to better compete with low-cost carriers which had taken a significant market share of Air France's regional routes. However, the brand had been marketed separately, had had its own revenue management system, scheduling, and had code-shared with Air France. The model had been “out of touch with the market”, he said.

Under the new plan, HOP! had been shrunk by 50%, Smith said. It would be re-integrated into the parent company, operating as “Air France operated by HOP!”. The airline would be pulled completely out of Paris Orly, the main domestic airport outside Paris, where it would be replaced by Air France's low-cost subsidiary Transavia France (TO, Paris Orly), which would be operating the bulk of domestic trunk routes from there. This had been made possible by the lifting before the lockdown of restriction on the number of aircraft that Transavia could operate; and the lifting during the pandemic of certain commercial restraints, he explained.

He said HOP!’s operations would be centred around two airports: Paris CDG, with a “mini-hub” around Lyon St. Exupéry. “HOP! will become an all-Embraer fleet around those two cities or those two airports. We’re removing the brand, so it’s basically like most regional operators’ airlines: it will be ‘Air France operated by HOP!’. So it’s really going to be a regional feeder carrier,” he said.

Smith was confident that the overhaul would result in a recovery of Air France’s domestic market. “We expect that in the short-term, we should be able to move domestic France into profitable territory,” he said.

According to the ch-aviation ch-aviation fleets ownership module, HOP! currently operates a mixed fleet of 70 aircraft, consisting of fourteen CRJ1000ERs (average age nine years); eleven CRJ700 Srs 701s (average age 19 years); seven EMB-145EP (average age 23 years); six EMB-145MPs (average age 19 years); five ERJ 170-100LRs (average age 16 years); ten ERJ 170-200STDs (average age 12 years); six ERJ 190-100LRs (average age 14 years); and six ERJ 190-100STDs (average age 12 years).