Here’s How Air France Wants to Replace the A380

Jul 31, 2019

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Air France is the latest airline to announce plans to retire its Airbus A380s, a move that comes just six months after the airframer closed the program.

The majority of the SkyTeam alliance carrier’s 10 A380s are less than a decade old, with the first entering service in 2009. The last aircraft will leave its fleet by the end of 2022, saving Air France at least 400 million euros ($446 million) in needed maintenance and cabin investments.

The question now is how will Air France replace its superjumbos. More “new generation” twin-engined wide-body aircraft is the answer, according to Air France-KLM Group chief executive Benjamin Smith in his remarks during a second-quarter results presentation on Wednesday.

Air France is in discussions with both Airbus and Boeing over an order for up to nine A330-900, A350-900 or 787-9 aircraft to replace the A380s, said Smith.

“All the choices that are out there are definitely an improvement for us,” he said citing fuel burn per seat savings of up to 25% compared to the jumbo jet.

Air France A350 in progres
Assembly of an Air France A350-900. (Photo by F. Lancelot/master films by Airbus)

The A350 and 787, however, may have a leg up on the re-engined A330neo. Air France already has firm orders for 28 A350-900s with the first due in September, and operates nine 787-9s with a 10th due next year.

Air France’s 787s are configured with 276 seats, including 30 lie-flat business class seats, 21 premium economy seats, and 225 economy seats.

Air France's first Boeing B787 taxis on the tarmac after its landing for delivery at Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy on December 2, 2016. / AFP / ERIC PIERMONT (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)
Air France’s first Boeing B787 (Photo by ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition, its sister carrier KLM operates 14 787s and has firm orders for another 13 aircraft. It took delivery of its first 787-10 earlier in July.

Smith, responding to analyst questions, acknowledged Air France’s ability to leverage the existing A350 orders and 787 fleet to replace the A380s. He did not provide more details of the deliberations.

At the same time, the carrier operates 15 A330-200s, its latest fleet plan shows. The A330neo is designed to complement the existing A330s, both in terms of maintenance and pilot training.

Ordering more A350s or 787s makes sense if Air France aims to continue to streamline its wide-body fleet. Smith called the fleet “extremely complex today,” and highlighted the airline’s various initiatives to simplify its operation.

Air France will remove its five Airbus A340s by 2021, and plans to retrofit its 68 Boeing 777s with three seating configurations instead of the current seven layouts. At the same time, the layouts of the A350s and 787s will be standardized.

“The operating performance of this fleet will be much improved,” said Smith of the on-going wide-body fleet initiatives.

Air France will operate a wide-body fleet of A330s, A350s, 777s and 787s when the current initiatives are complete. Its largest aircraft will be the 777-300ER with up to 468 seats.

Featured image by Bruno Geiger / Flickr.


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