Air France takes delivery of its first Airbus A350
Air France has become the latest airline to take delivery of the Airbus A350. The carrier took delivery of its first A350-900 — the shorter of the two A350 variants — on Friday from the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France.
The A350 delivered Friday was the first of 28 that Air France has on order. When Air France originally ordered the A350, it placed an order for 21 of the aircraft. However, earlier this year, Air France and sister carrier KLM swapped orders and Air France took over the order for seven A350s, while KLM opted to go exclusively for Boeing 787s. Air France expects to have three A350s in its fleet by the end of 2019, three more by summer 2020 and another 11 by the end of 2021. By the end of 2025, the carrier expects to have all 28 from the order.
The aircraft, registered as F-HTYA, was given the name "Toulouse", which is painted on the side of the fuselage. The aircraft first left the Airbus paint shop in late June. Since then, it finished assembly and has been running test flights before its delivery to Air France on Friday.
With the delivery, Air France has now operated an aircraft of every commercial Airbus family: the A300, A310, A320, A330, A340, A350 and A380. (The A220, while now owned and sold by Airbus, started life as a Bombardier product.)
At a press conference in Toulouse, Air France-KLM Group CEO Ben Smith said the aircraft gives Air France the ability to fly to any destination in its route network, including Santiago (SCL) and Singapore (SIN), its farthest. Smith said that Air France has the ability to operate to all of the major destinations it would want to with the exception of Sydney.
Inside the aircraft, you'll find a three-cabin layout: business, premium economy and economy. In business class, the 34 Safran Optima seats are arranged in 1-2-1 configuration.
The 24 premium economy seats, made by RECARO, are a new seat for the carrier. They are laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration. Finally, the 266 Safran economy seats are in a 3-3-3 configuration. Each of the A350s will be equipped with Wi-Fi, and Air France will offer free in-flight messaging — the same offering as its SkyTeam partner Delta Air Lines. Stay tuned for a full look inside the aircraft.
Beginning Oct. 7, Air France's A350 will begin flying its route from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Abidjan, Ivory Coast (ABJ), via Bamako, Mali (BKO), for crew familiarization.
For the winter season, beginning Oct. 27, Air France will fly the A350 from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Toronto (YYZ). Then, as Air France gets its third of the A350s, it'll begin flying to Cairo (CAI), Seoul (ICN), Mumbai (BOM) and eventually Bangkok (BKK) in summer 2020.
Speaking at Friday's press conference, Air France CEO Anne Rigail said the carrier is looking at additional destinations for the A350.
At this point, no U.S. destinations are on the schedule, however Air France Director of Customer Experience Catherine Villar told TPG that the airline is considering adding the A350 to its U.S. route network.
Over time, the A350s will replace Air France's aging A340-300s. Additionally, these aircraft will end up replacing the 10 A380s in Air France's fleet, which the carrier plans to retire by 2020.
With the move to add A350s to its fleet, Air France and KLM seemed to divide their allegiance between Boeing and Airbus, with KLM going forward with 787s and Air France going forward with the A350s. However, Smith said on Friday that instead of doing away with Air France's nine 787s — 10 once it takes delivery of a final one next year — it plans to keep them in its fleet.
The A350 is part of Air France's fleet renewal plans, which will see the introduction of a much more environmentally friendly fleet all around. Lighter seats in the premium economy cabin mean less weight in the air and therefore less fuel burn, according to the carrier. The A350 is more fuel efficient than its four-engine predecessors, such as the A340 and A380.
This year alone, several carriers have taken delivery of their first A350s. Included in that list are UK airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, each of which also introduced new business-class products on the aircraft. Japan Airlines took delivery of its first A350-900 in June.
All photos by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy.