Air France Announces Huge Airbus A220 Order

Air France has announced its highly anticipated order for the Airbus A220. Approved by the Air France-KLM board of directors today, the order tips the scales at 60 of the aircraft, plus another 30 options and 30 acquisition rights, demonstrating a clear commitment the A220-300 for their future short- and medium-haul fleet.

Air France A220
Air France has confirmed up to 120 A220s for its fleet. Photo: Airbus

Group CEO, Benjamin Smith, said in a press release,

“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.”

Air France join fellow European airline Lufthansa, who has 30 of the A220 on order for Swiss International Air Lines and, of course, airBaltic who plans to be an all-Airbus A220 operator in the coming years.

Short- and medium-haul fleet renewal

As previously speculated, Air France has gone ahead with a large order for the Airbus A220-300, although much larger than previously thought. As well as signing a firm order right away for 60 of the type, they also have an additional 30 purchase options and 30 acquisition rights. Yes, that’s a total of 120 new aircraft for their fleet!

The first A220s should start arriving in September 2021, with older A318s and A319s being phased out as their successors arrive. Air France says that the new aircraft will generate 20% less CO2 than others in its class, enabling Air France to reduce cost per seat mile by more than 10%.

The A220 for Air France
The A220 for Air France. Photo: Air France

For passengers, the A220 experience is going to be a marked improvement over the existing Airbus short-haul offerings. With wide seats, big windows and a super quiet cabin, Air France travelers will certainly notice the upgrade. The carrier has also said that all A220s will come with WiFi on board too, delivering a more comfortable, modern passenger experience.

Air France is clearly excited about their forthcoming aircraft, having already released the following video rendering of what their new planes will look like.

Why so many planes?

We previously speculated that their A220 order could be for between 50 and 70 aircraft, so the initial firm order for 60 is not a big surprise. What is a bit of a jaw-dropper, however, is the additional 60 they have on options and acquisition rights.

They’ve already said that the A220-300 will be a suitable replacement for their A318 and A319 aircraft, of which they have 51 in total. The A319s seat 143 passengers, and the A318 131. The 149 seats of the A220 makes it an ideal replacement for both these aircraft, representing a slight increase in capacity, particularly when you consider they are ordering nine more than the aircraft they are due to replace.

Air France A319
Both the A318s and the A319s have fleet members ready for renewal. Photo: Wikimedia

It is possible that Air France is looking to replace some of their older A320s with the incoming aircraft too. Although the average age of their A320 fleet is just 10 years, some individual aircraft are over 16 years old, with one veteran aircraft clocking up 18.2 years in service.

If Air France retire all their A320s which are over 10 years old, this would number nine aircraft in total, so the initial order of 60 makes perfect sense. The question mark hangs over the additional 30 plus 30 planes.

Previously, Air France said they planned to cut short-haul capacity by 15%. Another 60 short to medium-haul aircraft is a very interesting proposition, which indicates Air France could be looking to expand in the future, or at least to have the option to do so. Or, perhaps they plan to replace larger planes like the A320 / A321 with the smaller A220 to achieve their capacity goals?

Clearly, deliveries of their new A220-300s won’t happen overnight, but it’s great to see Air France in the queue for these amazing aircraft. It will be very interesting to see whether their additional 60 options convert into firm orders in the future, and how that plays out for Air France’s network strategy.