Paradoxically, it took the arrival of a Canadian, Ben Smith, at the head of Air France-KLM for the company to decide to buy mainly Franco-European rather than American. And thus affirm a preference for Airbus rather than Boeing. The latest episode to date, at the end of September, the company announced that it was placing an order for 50 long-haul A350s. A contract valued at 17.5 billion euros at list price which could even be enriched by an additional 14 billion because the group has also committed to 40 wide-body aircraft as an option. These planes will be divided between Air France and KLM at the rate of “28 for the first and 22 for the second”says Philippe Evain, former president of the Airline Pilots Union (SNPL).
In practice, it was with the A220 that Air France began to lean towards Airbus to the detriment of Boeing. To replace the fleet’s aging A318s and A319s, Ben Smith preferred the small A220. A choice of the heart for some because the plane, originally designed by the Canadian manufacturer Bombardier before being bought by Airbus, is produced in Quebec.
It is also a choice of reason because it helps Air France which has for “the challenge of reducing one’s environmental footprint”, explains Anne Rigail, general director of the company. Although marketed since 2008, the A220 is not the most modern device. On the other hand, with the A350, Air France makes real savings since the plane has, according to the general director, “a very competitive operating cost and fuel consumption reduced by 25%”.
A firm order for one hundred devices
At the end of 2021, Air France-KLM’s inclination towards Airbus was further affirmed. In December of that year, the management of the Franco-Dutch company announced its intention to replace all the Boeing 737s of its low-cost subsidiaries Transavia France and Transavia Hollande and those of KLM with Airbus A320neo and A321neo. In total, the group has placed a firm order for one hundred aircraft with an option for sixty additional aircraft. A contract valued between 9 billion and 12 billion euros.
Officially, Air France-KLM made its choice in the best of its strategic and economic interests. Behind the scenes, it is suggested that it would have been complicated for Air France and KLM to buy American planes after having just been saved from bankruptcy thanks to the money of French and Dutch taxpayers. Indeed, the French company received financial aid of 7 billion euros while KLM benefited from a financial contribution of 3.4 billion euros.
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