Iberia Express A320. Courtesy, Iberia

Iberia Express (I2), Iberia's (IB) new subsidiary for short and medium-haul flights, will start scheduled flights Sunday with four A320s operating from Madrid (MAD) to four destinations in Spain, despite opposition from IB mainline pilots and unions representing cabin crew.

IB pilots so far have staged 12 days of strikes since December protesting the new carrier. They announced a further 24 days of industrial action between March 16 and May 28, but this was called off after they agreed to new talks led by a government-appointed mediator (ATW Daily News, March 14).

The problem with the pilots is not solved, IB CEO Rafael Sanchez-Lozano confirmed to ATW. He declined to comment further, noting the negotiations are under government mediation.

I2's first routes are from Madrid (MAD) to Palma de Majorca, Alicante, Malaga and Seville. The network will gradually expand to 17 destinations this summer. The first international gateways are slated to be Dublin, Naples, Mikonos, Riga and Amsterdam. Other domestic destinations will include Vigo, Santiago de Compostela, Granada, Minorca, Ibiza, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Palma.

By year end, I2 will operate 14 aircraft, all leased from IB, to over 20 destinations. The new airline is a 100%-subsidiary of IB but managed independently. It will utilize IB's maintenance and other services.

"It has not been an easy project but today is a day of birth and this has to be celebrated," Sanchez-Lozano told a press conference in Madrid Friday, stressing that I2 "will be a success story that adds value to the Iberia Group. It will restore profitability to short- and medium-haul routes, add new destinations and connections, and feed traffic to the long-haul network, where Iberia is focusing its growth strategy."