Yet low-cost carriers are not the only trouble makers for Air France – announcing changes in the domestic sector on May 13, 2019, the airline highlighted that “on routes where high-speed trains connect Paris to the provinces in under two hours, Air France has lost 90% of its market share”.

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Poised for change

Yet significant changes are coming to Air France’s operations.

First things first, the airline signed a contract with its unions in October 2018, something that has allowed Air France to negotiate with cabin crew, pilot and ground handling unions individually.

“I’m happy to say that these agreements are now in place, which has unlocked an enormous amount of opportunities for Air France,” noted Ben Smith at Investor Day 2019.

While the new agreement with SNPL, the main pilot union in France, put a lot of focus on long-haul operations, medium-haul operations were a talking point as well. Namely, Transavia France has been freed of a capacity limit. As of July 31, 2019, the low-cost subsidiary of Air France-KLM will now be able to operate without aircraft number restrictions. 

“Huge win to be able to completely lift this cap, we have zero limit on the number of aircraft that Transavia France can operate. This tool, which is very cost-effective against low-cost competitors here in Europe, we now have the opportunity to use this tool defensively or offensively”, said the CEO of Air France-KLM.

Secondly, Air France is consolidating.  Instead of four separate brands serving the French market (Air France, HOP!, Joon and Transavia France),  there now will be three (or two and a half): Air France, Air France Hop and Transavia France.

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Thirdly, the medium-haul and domestic fleet complexity will be reduced. Currently, the airline operates four different aircraft types to serve its domestic routes, while medium-haul destinations are flown by the A320 family aircraft – from the smallest A318 to the biggest A321.

Air France Hop will phase out its remaining four ATR 72 aircraft, 13 Embraer E145 aircraft and keep the Bombardier CRJ 700 and CRJ 1000, together with the Embraer E170 and E190 regional jets. However, the CRJ 700 and the E170 might be on the chopping block as well, as Air France might only stick with the bigger regional jet variants.

Even if pilots are able to operate all four A320 family aircraft due to a common type rating, Smith has called the fleet complex. Air France will slowly phase out the A318 and the A319 to replace them with the new, clean-sheet Airbus A220 – an order that was confirmed on July 30, 2019.

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Air France should place an order for 50 to 70 Airbus A220 aircraft for its short and medium-haul network, with an option to purchase additional aircraft of the same type.  
 

Good reason to phase out the Airbus A380

To further optimize the fleet, the French carrier has also taken a deep look at the aircraft that serve its long-haul network. Currently, the airline operates a wide variety of wide-body aircraft: from the Airbus A330, A340, A350 and the A380 to the Boeing 777 and the 787 Dreamliner.