It had been thought that Air France would make a success of its newish Wuhan route (see news, October 2011). After all, isn't China supposed to be the "in destination" for all foreign airlines?
By expanding its network to serve this bustling hinterland city, Air France hoped to steal a march on its European and Gulf rivals by being the first (foreign) long-haul carrier to land there.
But it appears Air France's hopes have not been realised. From March 28 next year, almost two years to the day since the route was launched, the non-stop Wuhan service disappears from the carrier's website display.
Instead, Air France passengers departing Paris CDG will be routed via Guangzhou using China Southern for the domestic connection. It means the fastest London-Paris-Wuhan elapsed flight time, currently 13hrs 15 mins, will take considerably longer.
It is true that in recent times Air France has reduced non-stop flight frequency to Wuhan. The route was launched with a three times per week service, but it is now operated only once or twice a week.
Although Air France has yet to make any official comment, one suspects Wuhan is an under-performing destination and the loss-making carrier (Air France has posted a loss for the past six years) has decided to cut back.
A further consideration may be the fact that Air France has been receiving generous subsidies from the city of Wuhan and these have now ended.
According to French newspaper Le Figaro, Wuhan's municipal Communist Party Secretary, Yang Song, offered Air France the sum of 30,000 euros per flight for a year if it agreed to serve his city’s airport. That sum equates to a subsidy of roughly 300 euros per return ticket and was supposed to run for a year.
Business Traveller has contacted Air France for comment.