Gilbert Sedbon/PARIS

AIR FRANCE has opened talks with Boeing and Airbus over its fleet restructuring, says chairman Christian Blanc, warning the European consortium that its place is not guaranteed.

Air France is committed to carrying out a heavy rationalisation of its fleet under the three-year restructuring plan unveiled in 1994. The fleet will become smaller and will include fewer types, as old aircraft are sold and new orders cut back.

"We will deal with, the aircraft company, that offers the better conditions," says Blanc. He says that he hopes that Airbus will be able to better Boeing's offer, but that the outcome is not guaranteed.

Blanc's surprise comments are being seen in France as a way to apply pressure in the negotiations with Airbus. In the past, it has been seen as a tacit part of French national policy that the country's state-owned carrier would support the European aircraft consortium, which France was instrumental in founding.

The comments came as Blanc unveiled a marked improvement in the financial performance at Air France, with losses slashed to Fr2.7 billion ($512 million) from the record Fr8.5 billion in 1993.

The carrier, which is switching its reporting period, expects a loss of Fr3.5 billion for the 15 months to the end of its new financial year in March.

Blanc says that the carrier had proved its critics wrong by managing to halve its losses. The aim is to reach break even by the end of the restructuring plan in 1997.

Air France is also understood to have asked for payment of BFr6 billion ($190 million) in return for its 19% stake in Sabena. The stake was originally acquired for BFr4 billion in 1992 as part of an alliance deal, but Sabena is now tying up a new deal with Swissair. Blanc says that, if no deal is forthcoming, Air France is prepared to sit on its holding, but not take part in any capital increase.

Source: Flight International