Air France Orders More A350s To Replace A380s

Filed Under: Air France/KLM

Air France has just placed a significant aircraft order, which is the next milestone in a simplified fleet for Air France-KLM.

Air France Orders 10 Additional A350s

Air France has placed an order for an additional 10 Airbus A350-900 aircraft. Air France took delivery of their first A350-900 just a few months ago (here’s a review of Air France’s A350 business class between Toronto and Paris), and already had 28 of these planes on order, so this brings their total to 38.

Air France A350-900

So, why the sudden incremental A350 order? Because Air France recently made the decision to retire their fleet of A380s by the end of 2022 (they’re already retired their first A380), and these planes will act as lower capacity replacements of the A380s.

Ordering 10 A350s to replace 10 A380s obviously represents a significant capacity reduction, though nowadays airlines are looking for smaller and more fuel efficient planes anyway.

Air France A350-900 business class

Air France has had huge issues with the A380s, particularly with their reliability, which is why they’re retiring them sooner than initially expected.

The arrival of these A350s will also allow Air France to accelerate the retirement of A340s, which should be out of the fleet by the first quarter of 2021.

Air France-KLM’S Fleet Simplification Strategy

This is part of a significant attempt by Air France-KLM to simplify the fleets of the two airlines going forward. Since Ben Smith took over as CEO of Air France-KLM, one of his goals has been to make more centralized fleet planning decisions, because Air France & KLM’s strategy for fleet renewal made little sense previously.

For example, both Air France and KLM separately had orders for both A350s and 787s, which seems inefficient. In the meantime KLM will focus on the 787, while Air France will focus on the A350.

KLM is working on simplifying their long haul fleet to exclusively include Boeing 777s and 787s, as the airline retires A330s and 747s before 2025.

KLM will retire all 747s in the coming years

At Air France, the goal is for the long haul fleet to consist of 116 planes by 2023, including A330s, A350s, 787s, and 777s. While not as simple as at KLM, at least the fleet won’t have A340s and A380s at that point.

Air France will retire all A380s by 2022

These simpler fleets will give the airlines greater operational flexibility, as well as the opportunity to achieve significant economies of scale, thanks to reducing the number of pilot qualifications to three by 2023 (Airbus A330/350s, Boeing 787s, and Boeing 777s).

What Air France-KLM Executives Say

Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith explains:

“The rationalization and modernization of the Air France-KLM fleet is essential to improve its economic and operational performance. The result of Airbus’ European expertise, the A350-900 is a high-performing aircraft at every level and I am happy that Air France can make it one of the jewels in its fleet, to enhance our group’s competitiveness.”

Meanwhile Anne Rigali, Air France CEO, explains:

“The first results observed from Air France’s operation of the Airbus A350 are excellent in every way – customer satisfaction, operational performance, and a reduced environmental footprint. With an investment of over one billion euros per year, our fleet modernization is our main lever for meeting our objective to reduce our CO2 emissions by 50% per passenger/km by 2030.”

Bottom Line

I was expecting we’d see some sort of additional aircraft order given the retirement of A380s, so this move makes perfect sense. The 1:1 replacement of A380s with A350s isn’t surprising, given that smaller and fuel efficient planes just have better economics in most markets.

I do find it interesting — though I suppose not surprising — that Air France has decided to exclusively order the -900 version of the A350, without any -1000s in the mix.

What do you make of Air France’s A350 order?

  1. Not just a seat reduction, but also going from 9 first class seats to zero….or will some future A350 have first?

  2. The Time of the Titan superjumbos and magnificent quadjets is reaching its twilight. Something about this latest more efficient generation of aircraft makes them feel like they have less soul and character.

  3. It makes me ponder even more when airlines order the same aircraft family but install different seats on them. 772/77W on JAL, 359 on SQ, Garuda’s 330 etc…

  4. Just discovered that Lufthansa will stop all first class service from Dulles IAD to FRA and MUC late November 2020. All 747-8 I flights to FRA will be 747-400 with no FC.

  5. That paragraph on Air France’s issues with the A380 would have been better written as Air France failed to manage and utilise their A380 fleet effectively.

    No need to shy away from the truth. Weak managers, lack of vision and poor planning led to the debacle.

  6. Those center A350 seats look VERY narrow and VERY close together. I resign myself to being pressed against a stranger in Economy Class, but in Business???

  7. @Patrick Jacobs, care to share more? Couldn’t find this new anywhere else. Heard that LH was planning on removing F but IAD-FRA seems like a major route!

  8. @archer528

    I can see them flying 3x daily 77W in the summer and 2x 77W daily in Winter as they did before the A380 came online. Maybe another 2x weekly 772 flight to support the PPT leg?

  9. @super vc10
    I believe that the plastic section in the center rises up allowing for you to have a divider between you and your neighbor, but unfortunately, that one of the tradeoffs you see these days, to get decent density.

  10. Hi Lucky, any ideas if they plan to add La Premiere? Hate to see so many La Premiere seats go (even if the A380 product wasn’t the best)

  11. “Just discovered that Lufthansa will stop all first class service from Dulles IAD to FRA and MUC late November 2020.”

    Maybe first is just not selling. Why run an expensive F cabin just for staff and upgrades?

  12. Hey Ben

    Fantastic to be able to meet you at The Wing yesterday! Hope all went well on BOS flight … Thanks again for being so giving of your time and all the tips and advice (in a way, seems appropriate to post in the comments of this AF post, considering what we discussed!)

    Thanks again


  13. @scheev

    Looking at IAD-FRA flights on United’s website on November 10, 2020, LH’s 1 daily flight is indeed operated by a 747-400 (though I suppose it’s subject to change)

  14. Yes, Ben Smith has not said what Air France will do with the removing of the A380 First class seats, they are removing 2/3 of all first class offer Everyday. It seems that A350 cabin will stay same as today so without First Class seats. Accelerate 777-300 refresh cabin to have Best with first class on more 777-300 than today or also add another row of First class seat on some 777-300 to have 8 seats available.
    But this means that First class passengers will not benefit of last modern Air France plane (A350 & B787) . This means also that Air France First class passengers will not benefit of the far more quiet cabin and more comfortable plane (automatic compensation of air disturbance) and also far more better air cabin system and continue even with good Best seat to be in a very rough and Noisy plane that are the B777-300! Not very First class!

  15. @Super VC10 Those center ones are close together, but I don’t think they are particularly narrow compared with many other business class seats lately. This is essentially the same seat United uses for Polaris, and Lucky reviewed this seat recently and it was well received.

    In any event, this is much much better than the business class AF has on their A380s. I just flew this CDG-JNB-CDG and it was quite miserable. It was my first time flying long redeyes without a big time change, so I was interested to see if I would be well-rested and jetlag free when I landed. Unfortunately, the seats are so uncomfortable that it was tough for me to get much sleep. I’ll be glad when those planes are out of their fleet, even if it makes business class awards slightly harder to come by.

  16. @Bob, I flew CDG-JNB-CDG as well, earlier this year, and agree that the angled seats are horrible when trying to sleep. The timing of both those flights is such that a good night’s sleep should be possible, but all I did was struggle to keep from sliding onto the floor. Meals and service from the cabin crew were excellent, but you have to wonder what Air France was thinking when they installed those seats…

  17. Pete

    Yes most F flyers are doing it on awards, upgrades or other non-rev tickets including airline staff. Not many people pay full-freight F fares because they can fly a private jet instead.

    F is an occasional indulgence for the hobbyist/geek crowd and no longer a serious way of getting around. As J becomes better airlines see little need for F

  18. Another A380 ready to retire.

    WTF happened to the gym, bars, spas, swimming pool, casino, and other BS.

    Every airline used the A380 wrong.

  19. @Tom mmm, the difference between a F class full fare iAd-cdg-iad and a private jet is not even close. I’d say you are looking at $20k (you can obviously fly for much less, but I wrote full fare) and possibly $150-200k if you are lucky. You can’t be talking about the same people. We are talking millionaire vs billionaire.

  20. I don’t really understand why airlines would order both 787’s and A350’s either but quite a few do (Qatar, Vietnam, Air China, BA, Ethiopian, United, et al.) so there must be some reason. Anyone have any idea why?

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