Julian Moxon/PARIS

Air France president Jean-Cyril Spinetta has launched a three-year programme to improve the airline's competitiveness and image as it prepares for a global alliance before the end of next year.

A four-part plan has been unveiled to the workforce portraying Air France as an airline recognised for "-service excellence, with a powerful global network, at the heart of a global alliance and leader in its market".

Spinetta wants the carrier to become one of the three most punctual in Europe and to rebuild its customer service in terms of products. "We must also play on our advantages." He says that with the opening of two further runways, Charles de Gaulle is "-the only airport in Europe with real development capability, and is geographically ideal for serving Europe and the world as a hub". A new freight terminal has also been opened which he says makes the carrier "one of the world's strongest players in this area".

Spinetta is looking for improved relations with the workforce following the three-year employment deal struck after the crippling strike in June, which cost the airline Fr1.5 billion ($250 million). He plans to simplify working practices and management decision making, aiming for "innovation and change".

Finally, up to Fr3 billion will be saved made through efficiency measures and fleet upgrades. This process has taken another step forward with the decision to accelerate the retirement of Boeing 747-100s and 737-200s, with three of the latter to go by the end ofthe year and 14 more during 1999/2000. All 747-100s will leave the fleet by the end of 2000.

Industry observers say the agreement of the workforce on the development of Air France is crucial, with the forthcoming partial privatisation planned for next year, one of the main incentives to impose stability and prevent further disruption.

Elements of the workforce already hold 2.4% of the capital from an earlier share handout, and have the option of increasing it to a maximum of 8.7%. A deal with the pilots, signed in October, allows a 12% participation against salary cuts, while other staff will be able to take up to 3.5%. Spinetta still faces problems from unions representing ground workers and other non-pilot categories, however, who believe the pilots have been treated too favourably.

Source: Flight International