Air France cuts its freighter fleet – almost to the bone.

In 2012, financially-troubled Air France-KLM outlined a plan (Transform 2015) to reach the goal of returning its Air France operations to profitability after years of losses. The plan called for changes throughout the Air France operation, but focused particularly on restructuring short- and medium-haul operations to compete profitably in Europe, and “accelerating the transformation of freight.” Much of this was to be accomplished through headcount reductions (a touchy subject in France), but on the cargo side the how-to part was vague, with the exception of one concrete action: reduce the Air France freighter fleet from five units to four.


Eighteen months later, while some progress has been made, new Air France CEO  Frédéric Gagey  said: “Air France has not been able to reach its goal of identifying €1.5 billion (USD$2 billion) in cost cuts, leaving €400 million to trim by the end of next year.” And how does he plan to accomplish this? Apparently by cutting more staff, using subsidiary low-cost carrier Transavia for more routes in Europe, and retiring more freighters. By 2015, said Mr. Gagey, Air France will retire its remaining 747-400ER freighters, retaining only its two 777Fs.


More from Mr. Gagey below, but first it is interesting to compare Air France-KLM’s current freighter fleet plan with its plan from five years ago. At that time, Air France was looking ahead to the arrival of the five 777 Freighters it had ordered from Boeing, and the retirement of its remaining two 747-200Fs. As shown in the chart at right, this would have given the carrier a 15-unit freighter fleet in 2010. Sister carrier KLM (including Martinair) would also have 15, for a combined total of 30 – the largest jet freighter fleet in the world after FedEx and UPS. Five years later, as AF-KLM looks ahead to 2015, the picture has changed considerably, with the Air France fleet cut by 87% to just two units (three of the five 777Fs were sold even before delivery), while the KLM/Martinair fleet will be cut 33% to ten freighters.


And finally, here’s what Mr. Gagey had to say about the thinking behind the changes: “Concerning cargo operations, the contribution of bellyhold cargo remains essential to the long-haul economy. Furthermore, the cargo capacity of bellyholds on passenger aircraft carries an increasing share of global air freight and the global air freight market is permanently in overcapacity. In this context, Air France has decided to refocus its cargo fleet on its two Boeing 777F.”


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