Air France Ordering A220, Retiring A380

Filed Under: Air France

Air France has just announced some significant changes to their fleet, which follow a meeting today of the Air France-KLM Board of Directors. These decisions reflect the group’s focus on simplification.

The company explains that they hope to make the fleet more competitive by continuing to transform with more modern, high-performance aircraft with a reduced environmental footprint.

So, what’s happening?

Air France’s A220 order

Air France has announced a firm order for 60 Airbus A220-300s, with an additional 30 options and 30 acquisition rights. This order doesn’t come as a surprise — yesterday I wrote about how this announcement was expected this week.

The plan is for this plane to replace Air France’s fleet of A318s and A319s, of which Air France has a total of 51.

The aircraft will generate 20% less CO2 emissions than comparable aircraft in its class, and it’s twice as quiet. Air France notes that they’re reducing the per cost seat by about 10% compared to the planes that they’re replacing.

The plane has a capacity of 150 seats and a range of 2,300 nautical miles, so will give the airline an incredible amount of flexibility. The plane should be able to operate any route that the A318 and A319 could operate, and then some.

From a passenger comfort standpoint, the A220 is also incredibly comfortable, and Air France plans to offer wifi on the plane.

Air France also has a significant fleet of A320s and A321s, though as of now they haven’t announced plans for replacing those. I imagine eventually we’ll see an A320/A321neo order, or something.

Air France will retire A380s by 2022

As part of this fleet simplification, Air France has also announced plans to retire their 10 Airbus A380s by 2022. (Update: Air France has now retired all A380s due to reduced demand from COVID-19.)

Previously the airline had planned on phasing out three of the planes in the next few years, but keeping the rest. Now they’ll phase them all out in the next few years. Of the seven additional planes being retired, five are owned by the company, and two are leased.

It’s noted that the current competitive environment limits the markets where the A380 can profitably be flown. The decision seems to come down to increasing aircraft maintenance costs plus costly cabin refurbishments just don’t make these planes economical anymore.

Air France-KLM is studying replacements for these aircraft, though no decisions have been made yet (not that there are many direct replacements for the A380). Update: they ended up ordering 10 A350s as replacements.

What Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith says

Here’s what Air France-KLM Group CEO Ben Smith had to say regarding these updates:

“These decisions support the Air France-KLM Group’s fleet competitiveness strategy. They follow the recent orders for A350s and Boeing 787s that Air France and KLM have placed. We are very pleased to work with Airbus to add the A220-300 to our fleet, an aircraft that demonstrates optimum environmental, operational, and economic efficiency. The selection of the Airbus A220-300 supports our goal of a more sustainable operation, by significantly reducing CO2 and noise emissions. This aircraft will also provide our customers with additional comfort on the short- and medium-haul network and will provide our pilots with a connected cockpit with access to the latest navigation technology. This is a very important next step in Air France’s transformation, and this evolution in Air France’s fleet underlines the Group’s determination to attain European airline leadership.”

Bottom line

We knew an A220 order was imminent, so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The A220 will be an excellent replacement for the A318 and A319. We’ll have to see what Air France plans for replacing the A320 and A321. Presumably they’ll either go with the A320/A321neo, or if Boeing can get their stuff back in order, the 737 MAX could also work.

The A380 retirement news is sad as an aviation geek, though also not unexpected. These are very comfortable planes from a passenger perspective, but filling them profitably is challenging. When you consider how much they would have had to spend to update the cabins, plus the increasing maintenance costs, I see how they arrived at their decision.

What do you make of these fleet updates from Air France?

  1. Lucky – with so many new planes and new technology, can you write a post about the best newer planes around? For example I think you mentioned that the 787 promises to lessen jet lag by improving air pressure and increasing humidity. If you could rank the best planes to fly from a passenger environment experience perspective that would be interesting.

  2. That’s abit of a shock with their A380s being retired in just 2-3yrs. Then again, if you remember that AF has some B777-300ERs with a capacity for 458 sardines/passengers then you can see why they don’t need the A380.
    Really sad how the A380 has fallen out of favor with many airlines in such a short period.

    An order for the B777x or A350-1000 is probably on the horizon.

  3. @jorge, any benefit the 787 gives is marginal. I suspect people who say they arrive feeling amazingly refreshed and feeling great are experiencing some placebo effect.

  4. The A380 really only makes sense if you suffer from significant space restrictions (BA) or are trying to operate at massive scale (EK)

  5. I will greatly miss the A380. By chance I flew in short order on the A380, and right thereafter on the 777. The noise levels on the 777, by comparison, are atrocious. Hated it. Also, the vibration when you try to sleep is much stronger on the 777.

  6. By 2022 the oldest AF a380 will be 13 years and the newest 8. No point investing millions in refurbishing them when they’ll be withdrawn.

  7. This news probably means that I will never fly aboard an Airbus A318. I missed my chance at BA LCY-SNN-JFK because I won’t have to fly London-New York in the next few years and I don’t think I’ll need to fly on Avianca’s A318’s. Too bad. No A318 for me.

    I also haven’t found a way to fly on a Westjet 737-600 so that model will be unflown by me. 🙁

  8. @Udo same here. Once I got off a pleasurable, peaceful, comfortable Emirates A380 and got on a 777-300 (also Emirates) for my onward journey. The difference was extreme. The 777 was loud, uncomfortable, and claustrophobic. What a shame the A380 never really worked out.

  9. @JR Yes. Why would they spend millions to refurb cabins when they will be withdrawn in 2 years. It would defeat the object of cost saving

  10. RE: “@jorge, any benefit the 787 gives is marginal. I suspect people who say they arrive feeling amazingly refreshed and feeling great are experiencing some placebo effect.”


    Agree 100% – that or they’re in a premium class cabin, where, having also flown the 787 a few times, it’s a very nice ride!

    However, I also made it a point to spend time behind the curtain attempting to freely move about the aisles for periodic “laps” around the cabin, and checking out the economy cabin seats, and yowza is that plane (along with its evil Boeing sibling, 10-abreast “densified” 777s) not just downright awful for long haul flights, but the pathetically & shamefully narrow aisles were virtually impassable limb filled obstacle courses that in darkened cabins for all four ultra long haul red eyes taken within past 18 months on 9-abreast 787s & 10-abreast 777s resulted in me either kicking/bumping into others no matter how hard I tried not to (even when shimmying sideways & carrying a small flashlight) or worse, still, nearly tripping & falling (and NO! I was *NOT* inebriated be it with booze or Ambien, Valium, etc.).

    For sure, “densified” 777s & 787s are perfectly fine in a premium cabin.

    But, it’s a big time HARD PASS for super narrow, 17.2” wide economy seats of any kind.

    I mean seriously, the width of my shoulders alone is 19” – so 3+ hours in any seat less than 18” wide is out of the question!

    So, those who insist on 787s being better either are suffering from a placebo effect as you note, or they’re comfy & cosseted up front, where, of course, the ride is sweeter & better! 😉

  11. There’s no way in hell that Air France would order the 737 Max. France and Airbus are so closely linked that it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other. When someone says where do Airbus produce their planes? Most people will say Toulouse.

    Add to that they’d annoy Germany, Spain and possibly the UK as well because they all have rather large stakes in Airbus.

  12. @nf nope…after doing SFO-SIN I can assure you that I noticed the difference between the 787 and a normal metal airplane.

  13. Correction. The range of the 220-300 Is closer to 3300 Jim, not 2300 as the article mistakenly indicates

  14. @Howard Miller. 100% agree. If I have to fly in economy, Only long haul plane I’ll fly is the 767, A330 or A350. Ok a nondensifed 777 too. Otherwise PE in the 787 with 2-3-2 is a reasonably comfortable ride.

  15. Air France’s new management is making some extremely idiotic decision regarding its fleet future. Retiring the world’s largest and most comfortable passenger aircraft (in favor of less comfortable A350s and 787s) is a bad move on the passengers’ part, which is expected since the idiots who run management only care about making a profit. Ridiculous and unacceptable!

    Benjamin Smith is arguably one of the most incompetent mouse-brained people in the world.

  16. @brian your comments are contrary to the majority and small minded

    He successfully negotiated with the unions and they’ve settled most outstanding issues He closed down Joon

    If you pay attention AF hasn’t had industrial action for a very long time

    You should also remember it’s not entirely his decision. Anne Rigail is the CEO of Air France. One of the few female CEOs of an airline

    AF was the first European airline to introduce the a380 They only have 10 and whenever there’s a mechanical problem they don’t have the leeway to swap as they would with the 777

    Their a380 product is dated The la premiere product is not comparable with the updated one Likewise business. Economy has very dated entertainment system

    They won’t spend millions updating cabins when they will be withdrawn. Meanwhile WiFi is being installed in all the other aircraft All cabins are being refurbished.

    The 787 and A350 are actually comfortable in economy. It’s a matter of personal opinion.

    The majority of passengers have no idea about aircraft. If they see an outdated entertainment system they think the aircraft is old, even if it’s an a380

    The a380 is not the be all and end all. It wasn’t a great success and since airbus is ending production the other operators will eventually have to
    Look at replacements

  17. Thank god. A380 Air France has the awful business and la premiere seats. Hopefully the new plane will have reverse herringbone for business and curtain seats for la premiere.

  18. @Brian

    In the Air France configuration those A380s are pretty miserable… business class is not even lie-flat. I’d choose a route served by a 787 any day over an A380, if flying AF in J.

  19. @jorge in business I would say the A350 is the most comfortable plane flying, it’s the only one where I’ve noticed the altitude difference. A380 is on the same level but for comfort and quietness reason. I’d put 787, 777 and A330 on a similar but lower level.

    If I’m in the back. A330 every time, can’t beat a 2-4-2 configuration. The 787 is truly the most miserable plane to fly in economy.

  20. Seating arrangements are chosen by the airlines, not the manufacturers. Thus comparing seating comfort by aircraft is silly.

  21. The 787/Skytanic claim to cabin comfort is that the cabin is pressurized to 6000 feet instead of the industry standard 8000. Now, most of your cell phones have a built in barometer, so you can test this. Download an altimeter app, set the reference pressure to 1013 HPa, and see what your cabin pressure is really like.
    Turns out 8k was always a bit of a stretch.

    of course, the 787 doesn’t use bleed air, which is a plus.

    AF has the world’s largest fleet of a318. It’s like a 319, only with the wings longer than the fuse.

  22. @derek: You could fly to Bucharest on one of TAROM‘s A318 – they still operate a handful of them

  23. It is sad to see yet another carry abandoning the A380. I get the economics behind the decision, but it is beginning to look like the 747, in the form of the very limited 747-8i may end up being in the skies for longer than the A380! I do wonder though if the A380 will find a renaissance as China’s huge aviation market continues to grow? Right now, the market there for travel outside of Asia is still predominantly business-focused, but as more and more middle class Chinese leisure travelers emerge at a cost-conscious level and want to go further than they currently are (mainly within Asia), I feel like China will need a lot of really large, really dense planes. The 787 and A350 simply won’t cut it in those market conditions. Will be interesting to see…

  24. What! The CEO of an EU company is attempting to make a profit?! Return equity to shareholders!? Apparently he doesn’t understand how socialism works.

  25. It is extraordinary that companies like AF had the best ever plains in the world (I was a Concorde frequent flyer, though mostly with BA) and on my many flights from Europe to SEA I always set my schedules to get 2 EK flights on the A380. While the Concorde was a place “to be seen” and quite unconfortable, the A 380 is the most confortable plane ever built . It’s a shame they will retire them after such short a period of operation …

  26. Interesting on the retirement of the A380. One of the world’s most profitable and well run airlines, Qantas, has just begun its refit program on its 12 A380’s. Currently configured with 14P, 64J, 35W and 384Y to 14P, 72J, 60W and 350Y. I believe VH-OQK is currently in Dresden being reconfigured? So Qantas still sees another 8 to 10 years in the A380. They are also retiring their last 747-400’s by end of 2020, replacing them with 787-900, and making a decision at the end of this year on their project sunrise – Sydney to London or New York direct!! It will be interesting to see what Emirates plans for its 120+ A380’s.

  27. I had the experience of flying on the AF A388, PIT IAD a few months ago. We diverted enroute CDG-IAD for weather. It was my third AF A388 flight and might be the last. Good memories.

  28. Someone say that AF 777 has 458 seats…that’s without first
    If the A380 doesn’t have first, it would be ~600+ seats
    What I see is that air travel demands in France has dropped. The country lost partially its own symbol Notre Dam and now its European pride symbol, the A380.
    What else will they lose next? Eiffel tower?

  29. @Ed – I couldn’t agree with you more on the A330. I can’t sleep on a plane, not even in Business Class on a lie-flat so I mostly fly Economy and spend the money on something else. The 2+4+2 config on the A330 is very comfortable, especially if you can snag an emergency exit seat. I go out of the way to book A330 sectors when I plan my trips. The A350 is also OK, it is a great plane and not bad in Economy despite the config. I love how quiet the A350 is, I haven’t experienced the A330 Neo yet but if it is a bit quieter than the normal A330 it might just become my steed of choice for long haul flights. I’ve successfully avoided the 787 since introduction so I don’t have first-hand experience but I’ve heard enough horror stories, I’m not interested in trying it. The 777 is more difficult to avoid and I fly it only if I have no choice. Noisy as a beehive and 10 abreast on a 777 is pure torture. I respect it for how successful it has been and for starting the big twin trend but man, did the big twin thing move on since the 777 was intoduced.

  30. We have to remember that the A380 was conceived in the very late 1999’s early 2000’s. She is almost 20 years old and technology has moved on!!! Is anyone still using and iPhone 1, 2 or 3??? You upgrade or u ditch it!!!

  31. @Jay Vargas: Even by internet peanut gallery standards your comment is remarkably idiotic. I do hope your lobotomist didn’t overcharge you!

  32. For a substantial time before Mr. Smith the AF employee/employer relationship was in turmoil with management unable to focus on long term strategy but being embroiled by day to day survival of the airline. Being in France the social and political realities play a major role in decisions. Obviously with the preceding circumstance management did not properly invest in the assets they’ve already had like their Business Class or their A380. Really a shame on both counts, really mishandled. To be competitive with the soft product today the Cabin refurbishments, especially in Business and the A380, should
    have started five years ago at the latest.

    When it comes to the A380 if 450 humans are willing to be contorted and packed into a B777 in economy they would also be more than willing to be seated comfortably in the A380 with room to spare for F, J and PY to improve the revenue mix.
    Utilizing a properly refurbished 380 on the right routes like:
    CDG – LAX
    CDG – SFO
    CDG – MIA
    CDG – JFK
    would without a doubt work.

    On the Narrowbody side the A220 is a good start however AF should be a little bolder and order substantially more of the plane to really have the economy of scale and bring down the fixed and sunk costs.

  33. The A 380 is praised by passengers but not by so many airlines struggling to fill them up when the Giant can only land in big “Hub” airports”

    ” When someone says where do Airbus produce their planes? Most people will say Toulouse. ”

    Ben Smith ,AF CEO being Canadian ,his huge order will be assmbled in Canada and not in Toulouse,France this time, so they ll be “Made in Canada” aircrafts and not “Made in France” aircrafts.

  34. the A380 is my all-time favorite aircraft but of the 7 airlines that I have flown economy A380’s in, Air France was by far the worst experience so no tears shed here

  35. Will miss the A380. IMO, one of the best aircraft out there. Comfortable and roomy. I have no issues with Air France. Service was great! Gonna miss that aircraft.

  36. @Noah Bowie
    Of course AF is probably pressured to buy Airbus (that’s why they have A380 in their fleet while this machine was never suited to their operations) but Transavia (either the French or Dutch versions) has an entire fleet of 737. AF also has a massive long haul Boeing fleet (777 or 787).

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