Troubled carrier Air France plans to refurbish its entire fleet of long-haul Boeing 777s in a bid to respond to the competitive threat, and perceived higher quality service, of Gulf and Asian airlines.

Launching the initiative at a Paris press conference on 18 September, Air France chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said the airline would invest "hundreds of millions of euros" to improve its offering to passengers.

"The next three years will see a very big investment, considering we are in an austerity period," he says. "But it will dramatically improve the level of service and product. By 2015 we will be at the best, world-class standard."

He admits the refurbishment programme is a direct response to the higher level of service provided by new entrants to the market: "Gulf and Asian carriers have set higher standards than we had previously and we must do better."

From 2014 the SkyTeam carrier will fit completely new interiors, configured in a four-class layout, to its fleet of 19 777-300 and 25 -200 long-range twinjets. This will be followed in late 2015 by a complete refurbishment of its fleet of 10 Airbus A380s, two of which will only have entered its fleet this year.

Following the arrival of the final A380s this year, no new long-haul aircraft are scheduled to enter the fleet before Boeing 787-9s ordered by parent company Air France-KLM begin to arrive - initially with the Dutch carrier in 2016.

These will be followed from 2017 by A350s, says de Juniac, although he points out that negotiations to firm its 25-unit order with Airbus and Rolls-Royce, the type's sole engine supplier, are still ongoing. Maintenance of the powerplants is the sticking point, says de Juniac, although he is confident the parties can still hammer out a deal "in the next few months".

"I would rather take three or four months and come up with a good agreement rather than rush things and arrive at a bad one," he says.

Also launched at the same event was a new joint-venture partnership with telecoms firm Orange to provide voice and data connectivity on Air France's short- and medium-haul fleet. Trials of the service will begin, however, on two 777s, one operated by Air France and the other by sister carrier KLM in 2013.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news