For almost a year as CEO of Air France, Anne Rigail has been characterized by sincerity. The 50-year-old Frenchwoman who started her career at the former Air Inter company in 1991 is at the forefront of an ambitious project to modernize France’s flagship company, which today has an aging fleet and less efficient management.
In July, Rigail announced that Air France would retire its 10 A380s by 2022. The justification was polished at the time: “the current commercial aviation environment limits the markets in which the A380 can operate profitably,” but the company was already giving clues of the central problem of Airbus double-deck aircraft, the operating cost is much higher than that of the Boeing 787 and A350 jets.
Now, the executive was clearer about the largest passenger plane ever built: “the A350 and the Dreamliner (787) just made the A380 totally obsolete, too expensive, too big,” Rigail said in an interview with Airline Ratings during the debut flight of the A350 between Paris and Toronto.
Air France’s CEO was very clear about operating the A380, which has been in the company’s fleet since 2009. “Operationally, it has always been a very difficult aircraft,” she confessed. Problems include the fact that their size requires unique airport equipment as well as runway and taxiway adaptations.
Anne Abigail knows what she says. For several years, she has been running the company’s operation at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, its largest hub in the world. However, the executive acknowledged that as soon as the A380 arrived at the company its performance was positive as it replaced two types of old aircraft, but over time there were difficulties with its structure, engines and even the fact that its passenger cabin is outdated.
The company promised to modernize the interior of these planes, but Abigail explained why this is impossible: “it would cost us 35 million euros per aircraft,” she said.
Flexible and economical
However, Anne considers that the inflection point of the A380 came with the advent of the Boeing 787 and the A350. Both long-range twin-engines have changed international commercial aviation standards by providing an operating cost about 25% lower than older jets.
Smaller than the A380 and even the 777, they have been versatile as well. “With less capacity and more flexibility, you can put them (787 and A350) on any route,” she said, who acknowledges, however, the admiration of passengers and employees by the Airbus giant.
Lighter and more efficient fleet
Anne Abigail’s interview comes the same week that Air France announced its fleet optimization plans. The French airline will reduce its range of aircraft to increase efficiency, reduce costs and simplify maintenance.
Of 12 aircraft models (including the A320 family per version), Air France plans to have eight to nine aircraft. Or, as the company prefers to explain, reduce nine cockpits to 5 to 7 cockpits in the future. Among the planes to be retired are the ATR turboprop and the ERJ145 regional jet, but also the smaller versions of the A320Ceo family, such as the A319 and A318.
The goal is to keep Embraer’s CRJs, E-Jet, as well as the A320 and A321 in operation. The big addition will be the newly ordered A220-300, but Air France anticipates that it should look for a new narrowbody in the future and that could be the A321XLR. Another possibility would be the A220-500, an even larger version of the Bombardier-created jet that is just studies.
Quad engine end
Among the widebodies, in addition to the retirement of the A380, Air France will take the remaining four A340-300 out of service, thus ending the presence of multi-engine aircraft in its fleet.
To replace them, the company will retain 10 Boeing 787-9s and their current 777s, but it is the A350 that will play an important role as the fleet’s second largest widebody – and will have the old A330-200 company still.
Soon, Air France should announce the replacement of the A380 as well. Rumors start the likely order for the A350-1000, the larger-capacity variant of the Airbus twin-engine, but the versatile 787 also have chances in the dispute, especially as Boeing is offering the lowest-priced jet on the market.
For Anne Abigail, one thing is for sure, “I think the A380 is just outdated now.”