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Charlotte-Paris flight starts April 21

Springtime in Paris could be more convenient next year, with US Airways launching nonstop flights from Charlotte to the popular European city.

While prices haven't been set, tickets go on sale next weekend, and service will start April 21 on a Boeing 767 jet that holds up to 204 passengers. The flight will depart from the Charlotte airport's international concourse, where US Airways executives, airport officials and local leaders gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the new route.

Amid balloons, berets, pastries and piano music – plus miniature versions of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe – several officials said the flight does more than offer vacationers a direct path to Paris. It also will open up the region to France, they said, which has sent not only tourists but companies to the Carolinas.

For instance, French aerospace company Turbomeca Manufacturing opened a new plant in Monroe this fall, said Isabelle Estebe, president of the French-American Chamber of Commerce of N.C., which promotes economic relationships between France and the Carolinas.

“In terms of business,” Estebe said, “it's a major change in the landscape.”

Millie Cox, the honorary consul of France in Charlotte, said French companies have invested $1.57 billion and employ about 14,000 people in North Carolina.

Despite those links, US Airways expects most passengers on the Paris flight to connect from other cities, similar to the flights from Charlotte to Frankfurt and London.

US Airways had a Charlotte-to-Paris route before but dropped it after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The airline now flies to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport from its Philadelphia hub, where the airline has added several new international destinations in the past year.

With its smaller population, Charlotte has been stuck on three routes to Europe. Besides US Airways' Frankfurt and London flights, Lufthansa flies to Munich.

But Doug Parker, US Airways' chairman and chief executive, said the airline applied for access to Charles de Gaulle months ago and learned this week that it was available.

Another thing in the carrier's favor is the price of oil, which has toppled from nearly $150 a barrel in July to less than $70 this week. With the cost of fuel dropping, US Airways is better able to launch more international routes – typically big moneymakers for airlines.

The Paris flight will be seasonal to start – ending in October – but “we'd love to see this year-round,” Parker said.

If not, well, c'est la vie.

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