Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is Europe’s second busiest airport in terms of passenger and aircraft movements, and the sixth biggest globally. Not only does it boast impressive capacity, but the gateway serves as Air France’s main hub, and is key to the airline’s continued route network development.
This network has experienced significant expansion since the airline’s merger with KLM in September 2003. The Air France-KLM group has continued to expand and, in January 2009, it acquired a 25% stake in Italian national carrier Alitalia. This followed a decision in April last year for the Italian airline to enter a joint venture with Air France-KLM and Delta to coordinate these carriers’ respective transatlantic flights, allowing revenue and cost sharing.
The addition of Alitalia’s transatlantic network provides both Air France-KLM and Delta with 26% of the total transatlantic airline capacity; offering around 250 flights per day with up to 55,000 seats.
Summer schedule – ASK growth
The development of Air France-KLM’s transatlantic operations is proceeding, along with the airline’s route network expansion, highlighted in Air France’s summer schedule.
This new schedule, Air France says, could result in a 5.7% growth in Available Seat Kilometres (ASKs), compared with the 2.6% ASK growth generated by last year’s summer schedule. This overall 5.7% ASK increase is expected to be driven by a 6.5% rise in long-haul ASKs; and an almost 3% rise in medium-haul ASK activity.
The 2011 summer schedule will see an increase in the routes that Air France operates from its CDG hub.
Looking at Air France’s transatlantic services, in addition to the Alitalia joint venture, Air France will increase its number of daily flights from CDG to Atlanta this summer, with four departures per day. Air France and Delta will each operate two daily departures. Code-share agreements with Delta will also allow Air France to offer an additional daily flight from CDG to Boston, taking the total number of daily services to three. Meanwhile, Air France will add a seventh daily flight from CDG to New York JFK.
New routes across the globe
Besides the development of the airline’s transatlantic services, the Air France network is welcoming a number of new destinations, including Aarlborg, Bata, Billund, Freetown, Lima, Miami, Monrovia, Orlando, Phnom Penh and Xiamen.
The three times weekly service to Phnom Penh will be operated via Bangkok, and the airline will also add a single weekly flight to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, giving a total of three a week.
In Africa, two A330-operated flights per week will serve Freetown, Sierra Leone, along with the same number of A330-operated flights to Monrovia, Liberia via Conakry, Guinea.
The summer schedule also enhances the Americas route network, with a three times weekly service to Orlando. In addition, Air France will operate to Lima five times a week and to Santiago six times weekly.
Finally, for the medium-haul network, the airline will offer a thrice-weekly service to Billund, Denmark, five daily flights (as opposed to four) from CDG to Moscow and Bilbao, Spain, plus an additional weekly flight to Yerevan, Armenia, bringing the total to four.
The increase in the long-haul capacity this summer is made possible partly by Air France’s introduction of the A380 on its CDG–New York, Johannesburg and Tokyo routes. The aircraft will also begin operating on the CDG–Montréal and Washington DC routes by the end of the summer.
The introduction of the A380 on these services will allow Air France to decrease its weekly frequency on CDG–Montréal from 28 to 20, when the aircraft begins flying this route from April 22; while the weekly frequency of CDG–Washington DC flights will fall from 21 to 14 from June 6. Beyond the summer schedule, the airline may also introduce the A380 on routes to Mexico and Beijing.
Along with the induction of the A380 is an upgrade of Air France’s Boeing 777-200ER fleet, of which the airline operates 25. This aircraft previously had 247 seats, which included 170 in Voyageur (economy) class. This will now be replaced by an interior accommodating 309 seats, including 250 places in Voyageur. During the 2011 summer schedule, these aircraft will serve Guangzhou, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Osaka, Santiago and Lima.
Looking beyond the 2011 summer schedule, the airline will also commence new services from CDG to the Caribbean, principally to Martinique and Guadeloupe, with twice-weekly Boeing 777-200ER services.
The performance of Air France’s summer schedule and the new routes will be watched with interest by the global airline industry. The company is still recovering from a number of setbacks, not least of all the loss of Air France Flight 447 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009. This was followed by a leak to the aviation trade press earlier this year of a report commissioned by the airline, which was critical of its safety culture. Moreover, continuing political instability in parts of the Middle East and North Africa could have negative consequences for the airline’s fuel bill and its network there in the coming months.
However, the airline has enjoyed some good news, announcing in January that it carried 6.7% more passengers compared with the same month a year earlier. It also reported good third quarter results for the 2010–11 financial year, with a 13.9% rise in revenue to €5.92 billion. Nevertheless, a number of events, such as extreme weather towards the end of the year, and industrial action by French air traffic controllers, cost the airline around €100 million during this quarter, €70 million of which was incurred in December.
Future aircraft orders
The airline could look forward to new routes opening up and increased capacity in the future with the arrival of a new mid-sized long-haul airliner in the 2015–2025 timeframe. Both Air France and KLM are expected to opt for either the Boeing 787-900 or the A350-900, purchasing between 80 and 100 aircraft. Air France-KLM is expected to make a decision on which aircraft it will select by 2014 at the latest.
The new aircraft will replace the 17 Airbus A340-300s operated by Air France. Meanwhile, KLM will replace its 10 McDonnell Douglas/Boeing MD-11 and 16 Boeing 747-400M Combi aircraft with the new airliner.
Based on the existing, combined A340/A330 and MD-11/B747 Air France-KLM fleets, should the two airlines split the A350/787 order of 80–100 new aircraft evenly between themselves, this could provide both carriers with a total of up to 27,180 seats, depending on the type of aircraft purchased. This would represent an increase of over 11,100 seats compared with the combined total on their existing fleets of A330/A340 and MD-11/B747 aircraft.
Moreover, just as Air France was revealing its summer schedule, a report in the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper stated that Air France-KLM, and Delta, were in discussions about launching a possible joint bid for Virgin Atlantic, although both airlines have publicly refrained from making any comment on the report. Should the group go ahead and purchase the airline, it would obtain a number of potential routes into Africa (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa), Asia and Australasia (Australia, China, India and Japan), plus a significant transatlantic network which includes Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Cuba, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, plus several destinations in the United States.
The adoption of the new summer schedule, the introduction of new aircraft, upgrades to the existing fleet, plus the purchase of a new mid-sized long-haul airliner, illustrates that Air France has expansion on its mind. Compared with several other European carriers, the airline is also in an enviable position as far as its main hub at Charles de Gaulle is concerned. The airport occupies 32.4 square kilometres of land, and has significant room to expand. Expansion is more difficult at Europe’s other major hubs such as London Heathrow. CDG’s room for future expansion could, correspondingly, have major benefits for Air France, which could utilise any new terminal facilities in order to enhance and enlarge its operations there.
This article features in Routes News 2011 Issue 3