Air France started operations in 1933, following the merger of several airlines operating in France and across the French colonies. The airline has operated a wide range of aircraft types, entering the jet age with a range of European manufacturers before switching to Boeing and later adding Airbus. It operates a Boeing heavy widebody fleet today (although this is shifting with the A350) and an all-Airbus narrowbody fleet.
The separate airlines that came together to form Air France brought with them a range of aircraft. The earliest of these, for example, Société Générale des Transports Aériens (SGTA), started flights in 1919 and operated a range of French-built Farman aircraft.
Air France itself brought in several aircraft types after 1936, including the French-built Potez 62. After the Second World War, it quickly built up one of the largest fleets in Europe, with the Douglas DC-3, DC-4, and DC-6 and the Lockheed Constellation, Super Constellation, and Starliner.
Entering the jet age with the Comet
Air France entered the jet age in 1953 with the de Havilland Comet. It operated three aircraft, but it only stayed in service until 1954, with the problems found soon after introduction. The Vickers Viscount came in around the same time, and Air France operated 16 of them up to 1962.
Jets came back with the Sud Aviation Caravelle in 1959. Air France went on to operate one of the largest fleets, with 50 aircraft.
Air France moved predominately to Boeing aircraft from the 1960s but then added extensive Airbus fleets from the 1970s. Others operated includes the Fokker 100 for a short period in the late 1990s.
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Adding Boeing aircraft
Air France took its first Boeing aircraft in 1960 with the Boeing 707 and operated 41 of them – with the last retiring in 1982. It also operated the Boeing 727 (with a fleet of up to 29 aircraft) and the Boeing 737. It has operated the 737-200, -300, and -500, but the last was retired in 2007 to make way for an all A320 narrowbody fleet.
Air France was one of the largest operators of the Boeing 747. It introduced its first 747-100 in 1970 and operated all four 747 variants, retiring its last 747-400 in 2016. It operated the Boeing 767-200 and 767-200 from 1991 until 2003 but has never operated the 757.
Moving to Airbus
Airbus was formed in 1970, bringing together several European manufacturers to take on the larger US companies (including, but not just, Boeing). Air France was the launch customer for Airbus’ first aircraft in 1974, the A300, and operated 25 aircraft. It also operated the smaller A310 from 1984.
Air France was, of course, a major operator of the Airbus A380. It took its first aircraft in 2009 and operated a fleet of 10 aircraft. The A380, though, did not work out as planned for most airlines. In 2018, Air France said that it would retire half of its A380 fleet by 2021, but the pandemic accelerated this, with all aircraft retired in mid-2020.
And with narrowbodies, the A320 has gradually replaced the Boeing 737. The first A320 entered the fleet in 1998. And from 2007 it has only operated the A320.
The days of Concorde
Of course, we can’t discuss Air France’s fleet without looking at Concorde. Concorde was developed as a joint British and French undertaking. And although it was originally intended to be operated by other airlines (and there were around 100 options from 18 airlines), only British Airways and Air France operated it.
Concorde entered service in January 1976. A simultaneous takeoff for the first commercial flights was arranged, with British Airways flying from London Heathrow to Bahrain and Air France to Rio de Janerio (via Senegal).
Air France operated six aircraft. Its flagship route was to New York, but it also served Rio de Janerio and several other South American destinations for short periods in the 1970s and 1980s (including Caracas, Venezuela, and Mexico City).
Concorde was retired finally in 2003. The fateful crash of Air France Flight 4590 in July 2000, which killed all 109 passengers and crew, had an impact. But its fate had been sealed economically long before that.
Moving to today’s fleet
Compared to its historic fleet, and with recent retirements, Air France operated a fairly streamlined fleet today. It operates an all A320 narrowbody fleet (with the A318, A319, A320, and A321). The A220 is on the way, with an order for 60 aircraft destined to replace the smaller end of the A320 fleet.
And for widebodies, it operates (fleet data is from ch-aviation.com, as of September 2021):
- Boeing 777 – This forms the bulk of the long-haul fleet, with 21 777-200ER, two 777-200F and 43 777-200ER in service.
- Boeing 787 – 10 787-9 aircraft.
- Airbus A330 – 15 aircraft.
- Airbus A350 – 11 aircraft in service, with 27 on order.
This constitutes the main Air France fleet. Air France is also the owner of the airline HOP!, operating domestic and regional flights. It operates a fleet of 61 aircraft – including Embraer ERJ170 and ERJ190, and Bombardier CRJ700 and CRJ1000.
This has been a quick tour of Air France’s varied fleet history. Feel free to discuss this further in the comments.
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