The 20-year history of French regional carrier Air Alpes
Founded in 1961 by Michel Ziegler to offer glacier ski drop-offs to winter sports enthusiasts, the airline’s history has centered around the French Alps. Originally created as a flight school and to serve mountain communities, Société Air Alpes was based at Chambéry Savoie Mont Blanc Airport (CMF) and at Viviers-du-Lac in Chambéry.
The airline began operations with a single Piper PA-18 Super Cub, primarily providing flight training and delivering supplies to mountain communities. The airline then acquired a PC-6/340 Porter which was soon replaced by a Pilatus PC-6/A-H2 Porter turboprop. By the early 1960s there was considerable interest in glacier skiing and the airline built its own high altitude airstrips which required landing guidance from people on the ground.
High altitude airstrips for glacier skiing
At the time, guides and ski instructors from French alpine resorts worked closely with the airline to offer glacier skiing on Mont Blanc. Only six passengers and their instructor could be transported by Air Alpes planes for each flight.
In 1963, a second Pilatus PC-6/A-H2 joined the fleet, and the company built what it called an “altiport” at 10,660 feet in the ski resort of La Plagne. In 1964, the airline launched seasonal flights to the French Mediterranean island of Corsica. It has leased a six-seat SFERMA SF-60 Marquis aircraft to start service to Lyon-Bron Airport (LYN) in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France. In 1967, Air Alpes took delivery of its first de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter and fitted it with skis so it could operate in and out of Courchevel Altiport (CVF) high in the mountains. During the summer, the Twin Otter was used to provide flights to Chambery, Grenoble, Nice and Ajaccio.
**Unfortunately the lucrative high altitude skiing came to an end in 1979 after a decision was made to ban glacier skiing.**
The service to Paris begins
In 1968 it became apparent that there was a high demand for flights to Paris, and in 1969 Air Alpes began flying to Paris Le Bourget Airport (LBG) five times a week. Additionally, in 1969, Air Alpes took delivery of a 15-seat Beechcraft Model 99 turboprop.
In 1972, Air Alpes purchased 30% of Avi ALPI, an Italian airline based in northern Italy. The same year, Air Alpes inaugurated flights between Dole-Jura airport (DLE) and Paris and Paris to Geneva airport (GVA) with Twin Otters. Additionally, in 1972, Air Alpes became part of the Air France reservation system and began offering flights on behalf of Air France.
By the end of 1973, Air Alpes was flying 50 routes and placed an order for four Aérospatiale Corvette short-range business jets, with options for eight more. In 1974, flying with the livery of Air France, Air Alpes acquired a Cessna 401, a Cessna 402 and a Cessna 411 after buying Air Limousin, Air Rouergue and Pyrénair.
In 1975, the first of two Fokker F27 Friendship turboprops arrived and were immediately put on the airline’s Chambery-Paris route. In 1977, Air Alpes decided to get rid of its Corvettes and began to cut unprofitable routes. In 1979, Air Alpes replaced its Fokker 27s with 65-seat Fokker F28 Fellowship jets and began flights from Paris to Aeropuerto de Figari Sud-Corse (FSC) in Corse du Sud.
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The end of the road for Air Alpes
On July 3, 1980, an agreement was signed with TAG Techniques d’Avant Garde, now the majority shareholder of Air Alpes and Transregional Air Transport (TAT). In 1981, TAT acquired over 75% of the shares of Air Alpes, and the airline subsequently ceased operations.