Air France will launch services with its new Airbus A220 on October 31, first to Berlin, Milan-Linate, and Venice. At a later stage during the upcoming winter season and after delivery of five more aircraft, the new type will also operate to Bologna, Rome, Lisbon, and Copenhagen. Air France officially welcomed the first A220-300 on September 29 during a special event at Paris Charles de Gaulle. A220 opens a new era for Air France.

The first aircraft registered F-HZUA and named ‘Le Bourget’, arrived in Paris on the previous night after 7 hours 48 minutes or 5.547 kilometers non-stop flight from the Airbus factory in Mirabel (Canada). That’s well within the 6.297 kilometers maximum range Airbus is giving for the -300. The aircraft was unveiled with the AF livery last July.

The arrival of the A220 marks a new era for Air France. The carrier placed an order for sixty aircraft with thirty options and thirty purchase rights in December 2019. Only a few months later, Air France-KLM was hit hard by the Covid-crisis, with Air France saved with a €7.0 billion state aid package from the French government. This was followed by a €4.024 billion capital share increase in April that was partly used to reduce the airline’s net debt.

Canceling A220 order was never an option despite the crisis

Despite the difficult financial position and a reduction in its capital expenditures, the A220 order like that for the A350 has never been questioned. As Group CEO Ben Smith said during the event today, the new aircraft is a necessity if Air France wants to reduce its carbon emission by fifty percent in 2030: “With twenty percent less CO2 emissions, the A220 contributes to the necessary ecological transition of our sector.. (…) This order for sixty A220s represents investments that we have maintained, despite the historic crisis we went through. We are committed to our transformation with the objective of emerging from the crisis stronger, ready to meet future challenges.”

The A220s will replace the eighteen A318 and thirty A319s that are currently in the Air France fleet, plus some of the 44 A320s. The A318s with 131 seats are on average some sixteen years old, the A319s with 143 seats on average even twenty years with some even touching 23 years. The A320s have 174 seats and are on average twelve years old.

The leather seats feature a holder for tables and smartphones, plus USB ports. (Air France)

The A220 will deliver a 20-25 fuel burn improvement over these older-generation jets and a reduction in costs per seat of ten percent. The new type offers more seats than the A318/A319, as Air France has configured the cabin with 148 seats in a dual-class layout (Business and Economy) with the typical A220 three-two arrangement. Each leather reclining seat by Collins Aerospace is 48 centimeters wide, the widest on the market, and features USB ports as well as a holder for smartphones and tablets. Wifi is standard on the A220.

Air France CEO Anne Rigail is convinced that the A220 will help the carrier to “win back on its medium-haul network” with a more attractive product that can match that of competing airlines. She thanked the team of sixty workers who have been very busy for the last two years to prepare the introduction of the new aircraft to the fleet. Fifteen A220s are to be delivered in 2022, with the last of sixty from the original order set to join in 2025. They will ultimately make up some sixty percent of the medium-haul fleet.

Replacement of the A320/A321 is next

The A220 satisfies only part of Air France’s fleet renewal plans. The remaining A320s and nineteen A321s eventually will need replacement too but will be part of the fleet at least until 2025. The current tender for new aircraft from Air France-KLM is for KLM and Transavia and is expected to be completed before the end of the year. It is likely that another one will follow for the medium-haul fleet at Air France.
Given the strong historical ties with Airbus, the A321neo is a likely candidate for this but Ben Smith has indicated earlier that he is also interested in a stretched version of the A220, the -500. He repeated this in discussions with journalists at the delivery event. Whereas Airbus Chief Commercial Aircraft, Christian Scherer, said last June that the airframer has no plans to offer more versions of the A220, he said now that it will be a matter of time when the airframer will offer a stretched A220.

 

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