It appears the French flag-carrier is expanding into mainland China at the expense of SE Asia.
A few days after its flights to Bangkok are cut back (see online news October 24), Air France will inaugurate this new service between Paris CDG and Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. Wuhan will be Air France’s fifth Chinese destination.
Air France will inaugurate flights on April 11, 2012 with a three times a week service from Paris CDG. It will utilise a 309-seater B777-200ER (the plane type which is deployed on Paris-Bangkok until the end of March) fitted with 35 business, 24 premium economy and 250 economy class seats.
Wuhan is a bustling commercial city with a population of 9 million, located roughly equidistant from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The vast majority of flights serving its busy airport are domestic. At present there is no long-haul international air service.
It means that overseas visitors bound for Wuhan are obliged to route via another hub, normally Shanghai or Beijing.
Air France’s non-stop flight from Paris will result in considerable time savings for passengers heading from or, destined for, Europe.
Flight AF132 will depart from Paris CDG every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1620 to arrive into Wuhan at 0855 the next day. Return flight AF139 leaves Wuhan at 1130 to reach Paris CDG the same day at 1700.
These timings provide good connections for passengers using the carrier’s CDG hub.
But why Wuhan? Well, the big European carriers must continually search out new opportunities in growing markets like mainland China so as to keep one step ahead of their Gulf rivals like Emirates, Qatar and Etihad.
All told the Air France/KLM Group is the largest single provider of flights between Europe and mainland China (including Hong Kong). It currently operates between Amsterdam and Paris CDG to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Xiamen.
The combined Air France/KLM network leaves the UK in the shade. Currently, besides Hong Kong, there is direct air service to only two mainland Chinese cities: Beijing and Shanghai.
Perhaps matters will change now that British Airways is tipped to acquire more Heathrow slots from Bmi.
For more information visit airfrance.co.uk.
Report by Alex McWhirter