Air France is to review its future fleet plans in response to the industry downturn, including in it the 10 giant Airbus A380s which are due to start arriving from 2006.

The A380 "will be part of the review of fleet plans" confirms executive vice-president network management Bruno Matheu. Although there is no indication that the order is in jeopardy, the review leaves open the possibility of deliveries being re-scheduled.

The economic climate persuaded Lufthansa to postpone its expected order announcement for the A380, leaving Air France as the only European flag carrier with a firm order to date. However, Adam Brown, who heads market forecasting at Airbus, remains bullish that the A380's lower unit costs will be needed more than ever and promises that new orders will emerge.

The Air France review comes as the carrier's rapid expansion plans have ground to a halt, although fleet redeployment, particularly to Africa, has taken up some of the slack. Matheu estimates that capacity compared to budget has been cut by around 11% but redeployment has added around 4%, leaving a 7% overall deficit. Capacity is still 1.6% higher than last winter.

Seat capacity for the winter season on the North Atlantic has been cut by 25% compared to budget and 16% against last year. The service from Paris to Dallas service, launched only this year, will end in January. In the Middle East, winter capacity will be cut by 27% compared to budget and 8% on the same period last year. Some of this is being redeployed in Africa, where capacity is being boosted by 42%. Air France has also been able to take advantage of the collapse of Sabena, with its historic ties to central Africa and also the uncertainty surrounding Air Afrique. Capacity to Asia, meanwhile, is more or less stable.

Intra-European capacity is being cut by 3.5% compared to last year. Here too Air France has been able to take advantage of the collapse of Swissair, using higher capacity aircraft on routes to neighbouring Switzerland.

Source: Airline Business