Air France to reduce Airbus A380 fleet

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Benjamin Smith, the Canadian CEO of Air France has confirmed he will maintain Airbus A380s in Air France’s fleet. From 2020, the giant aircraft will be renovated, but their number will progressively be decreased from 10 to 5, Bruno Trévidic writes in French financial daily Les Échos

Benjamin Smith will not be the gravedigger of the A380. After several weeks of suspense, the new boss has decided to keep several of them in the fleet. However, the installation of the new “Best” cabin interior will not begin until the autumn of 2020. By then, the number of A380s with Air France colours should start to decrease.

Of the ten A380s currently in service, five are leased. Air France intends to return two of them to the lessor, as their contracts expire at the end of 2019. Les Échos knows that Air France will only keep, in the long term, the five A380s they own in full.

High operating costs

Although the A380 remains the preferred flagship carrier for the general public, its operating costs are simply too high: the A380 consumes much more kerosene than a Boeing 777, hence the latter remains Air France’s long-haul reference aircraft. In 2017, Air France already decided to replace the two last Airbus A380s on order by three Airbus A350s.

Air France swaps two remaining Airbus A380s for three Airbus A350s

Operating issues

Next to these high costs, Air France faces many operational problems. If the airline has to cancel one flight, a large number of passengers is involved with sometimes problematic consequences. Last Summer, around 20 A380 flights were cancelled after technical issues. In Winter 2017, one of the four engines exploded on an A380-flight en route to Los Angeles.

Air France A380 flight AF66 CDG-LAX diverts to Goose Bay after serious engine problem

Reduced customer satisfaction rate

Among regular customers, the satisfaction rate significantly dropped. And for a good reason: the A380 is the only Air France long-haul aircraft not to have benefitted from the new cabin interior yet. The newer “best” cabins have already been introduced on the Boeing 777,  Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 aircraft. The older cabin interior of the A380 – introduced in 2010 – no longer meets the current standard of long-haul business class.

Cost to renovate one A380: €45,000,000

For the five aircraft that will remain in Air France’s fleet, the total renovation costs will amount to €225 million, a significant cost that seems to have made Benjamin Smith hesitate. During a meeting with Air France pilots, the Air France-KLM CEO questioned the merits of such an investment.

As the value of a second-hand A380 is almost zero, and A380s on the second-hand market do not find any takers, Air France will not let go of the A380 yet, a source close to the matter said. “Even if the operating costs are not optimal, the A380 sector is profitable and represents a significant capacity that would be difficult to do without.

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