Air France will take more Boeing twins, but is moving up from 767 to 777

Julian Moxon/PARIS

The French Government has approved Air France's decision to buy up to 20 Boeing 777s (including options), as part of its long-range-fleet renewal programme. The airline has placed orders for five more Airbus A340s, and will launch the stretched, re-engined A340-600 "-if Airbus' proposals meet our criteria".

Air France president Christian Blanc had made it clear that he wanted to order the Boeing twin as part of a "commercial decision necessary for the future of our fleet", but he met with resistance from Government officials pushing for an all-Airbus order. The carrier will purchase ten 288-seat (three-class) 777-200IGWs, powered by 409kN (92,000lb)-thrust General Electric GE90s, plus ten options, with deliveries due from 1998.

In June the airline concluded an agreement with Airbus to take its remaining five outstanding A340 orders (from its original contract for 14 A340s) as the 271t maximum take-off weight (MTOW) -300E (Flight International, 3-9 July). A new order has been placed for five more 252-seat A340-300Es, along with five options, which can be, converted to an order for A340-600s. The new aircraft will be delivered between late 1997 and late 1998.

Air France had earlier said that it would dispose of its three A340-200s, and has now decided to upgrade its six existing A340-300s, from 257t MTOW to 260t, and to install more powerful CFM56-5C4 engines.

The 777 deal replaces the cancelled order for seven Boeing 767-300s and eight 737-500s, agreed in 1995. "The success of the Paris/Charles de Gaulle hub and the resulting growth prospects for the Group have led to a change in Air France's long-term requirements, which are now directed towards larger-capacity, longer-range aircraft," says the airline.

Air France says that the rationale for ordering both types (direct competitors in some markets) was that the 777 would be aimed at high-capacity business routes such as the North Atlantic, the A340 being reserved for longer, thinner, routes. "For our needs, the two aircraft are compatible," says Blanc.

The decision on whether to order the A340-600, which has about the same seating capacity as that of the competing 777-300, depends on the kind of deal Air France, as launch customer, would be able to strike with the European consortium. The A340-600 brings the advantage of cross-crew commonality with Air France's other Airbuses, but its revised design would, says the airline, involve "significant" up-front investment.

Meanwhile, Air France has revealed estimates of half-year net profits of Fr820 million ($160 million), against losses of Fr335 million for the same period the previous year (which included a Fr630 million provision for cabin crew redundancies).

Turnover was also up 5%, at Fr21.3 billion, while operating profit increased by almost 30%, to Fr1.1 billion, despite a Fr500 million increase in fuel costs over the same period. The carrier says it is aiming for balanced books by the end of the financial year, on 31 March 1997.

Source: Flight International