Air France orders 60 A220s and announces retirement of A380

31 Jul 2019 by Jenni Reid
Air France -A380-1

The Air France–KLM group has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for 60 A220-300s, with the aircraft to be operated by Air France.

The French flag carrier also announced that it would retire all ten of its A380s from its fleet by 2022.

The single-aisle A220s will gradually replace Air France’s fleet of 51 Airbus A318s and A319s, and it has an additional 30 options and 30 acquisition rights for the aircraft. The first should be delivered in September 2021.

The airline is seeking to improve efficiency on its short- and medium-haul routes.

Air France A220-300

The A220 was formerly Bombardier’s C Series until Airbus bought a majority stake in the project in 2017. It has two variants, the A220-100 and the A220-300.

Airbus says it generates 20 per cent less CO2 emissions than comparable aircraft in its class, and is twice as quiet. It has a capacity of 149 seats and an operating range of 2,300 nautical miles.

Air France said the aircraft would increase its competitiveness by reducing cost per seat by more than 10 per cent compared to the aircraft it will replace.

The order is worth $5.5 billion, Bloomberg reports.

“The acquisition of these brand new A220-300s aligns perfectly with Air France–KLM’s overall fleet modernisation and harmonisation strategy,” said Benjamin Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM.

“This aircraft demonstrates optimum operational and economic efficiency and enables us to further improve our environment footprint thanks to the A220’s low fuel consumption and reduced emissions.

“It is also perfectly adapted to our domestic and European network and will enable Air France to operate more efficiently on its short and medium-haul routes.”

Smith joined as group CEO in 2018 and has been seeking to increase the airlines’ consistency and simplicity, both in their networks and fleets.

Air France and KLM recently announced an order swap that will see six B787 aircraft on order for Air France being delivered to KLM, and seven A350-900s ordered for KLM  transferred to Air France.

Air France has also outlined plans to reduce short-haul capacity by 15 per cent (in terms of available seat kilometres) by the end of 2021.

It posted a loss of €189 million on its domestic network last year and has cumulatively lost over €700 million in the sector since 2013, which it blamed on increased competition from high-speed rail routes and low-cost airlines.

Air France A380

The other big news is that the A380 will leave Air France’s fleet by 2022.

The superjumbo’s days are numbered; Airbus announced this year that it would end production of the A380 in 2021, following the decision of its biggest customer, Emirates, to reduce its outstanding orders.

Air France had previously said it would halve its A380 fleet over the coming years.

As Business Traveller‘s Alex McWhirter wrote at the time, Air France finds the A380 costly to operate compared with its B777-300ERs which carry almost as many passengers. Meanwhile the cost of renovating the aircraft, which now has dated seating and amenities, costs €45 million per plane.

The airline said in a statement yesterday:

“The current competitive environment limits the markets in which the A380 can profitably operate.

“With four engines, the A380 consumes 20-25 per cent more fuel per seat than new generation long-haul aircraft, and therefore emits more CO2.

“Increasing aircraft maintenance costs, as well as necessary cabin refurbishments to meet customer expectations reduce the economic attractiveness of Air France’s A380s even further.

“Keeping this aircraft in the fleet would involve significant costs, while the aircraft programme was suspended by Airbus earlier in 2019.

“The Air France KLM Group is studying possible replacement options for these aircraft with new generation aircraft currently on the market.”

Other airlines have similarly found the superjumbo too costly too operate compared with more fuel efficient aircraft such as the A350 and B787.

The huge plane has long turnaround times, and airlines increasingly want smaller aircraft that can mean more round-trips per day, providing more flexibility.

Air France-KLM also today reported that its operating profit rose by 16 per cent year-on-year to €400 million in the three months to June, partly because of staff strikes affecting performance in 2018.

Revenue was up by 6 per cent to €7 billion, while net income fell by about 25 per cent to €80 million as a result of higher taxes.

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