These days, Air France’s fleet is more heavily dominated by Airbus aircraft. But at one point in time, the airline had a fairly robust fleet of Boeing 737 jets. Now, it’s been nearly 13 years since Air France operated the model. So what happened to them?
Long history with the 737
Air France established a strong relationship with the Boeing 737 over a number of years, starting in 1973. Back then, the airline operated just one aircraft of this model in addition to some BAC Concorde, Airbus A300B2, and A300B4 variants. From 1973 to 2001, Air France went on to take delivery of some 68 737 aircraft. Most of those were moved onto other airlines. But when and what happened to Air France’s relationship with the Boeing 737?
Let’s start in the 1970s. In this decade, Air France began to dabble with the 737-200. It started off a fleet that would eventually number 26-strong. But in the 70s, the air carrier took delivery of just three aircraft. They were registered:
- N4522W, delivered in October 1973, according to Air Fleets.
- N4504W, delivered in January 1974
- CF-NAW, delivered in September 1976.
However, whilst the airline started with these aircraft it operated them for a relatively short time. Somewhere between five and seven years to be exact. By 1982 all of those aircraft were retired from the Air France fleet and sent to three separate carriers: Air California, Polaris, and Nordair. Where are they now? Well, none of them are used anymore. N4522W was scrapped whilst the remaining two aircraft have now been stored by their final airlines.
A pivotal decade for 737 deliveries
It was really in the 1980s that Air France developed its affinity with the Boeing 737. Air France took delivery of 21 aircraft in that decade between the years 1983 and 1989 and all of these aircraft were the -200 variant. These aircraft proved to be important in advancing Air France’s strategy. In the 1980s the airline went through a period of rapid growth. By 1983, it was serving 150 destinations over 73 countries with over 100 jet aircraft.
Consequently, most of the Boeing 737-200 received in the 1980s went on to serve for a long time with Air France. Those delivered at the end of the decade seemed to undertake a shorter operation with Air France. The carrier only had F-GCSL for three months before it was given to Air Charter in January 1990.
However, the majority of the aircraft stayed on with the airline until the late 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, the final 737-200 retired in 2002. It was F-GBYF and had been with Air France for 19 years. It then went onto Ryan International Airlines, a U.S based airline that ceased operations in 2013. F-GBYF was stored with Merpati from 2008 until the airline went bust in 2014.
Damaged beyond repair
One aircraft from the 80s did not go on to serve with other airlines. F-GBYA, a 737-200, was damaged on 4th March 1999 after serving with Air France for 16 years. There were no fatalities although the aircraft was damaged beyond repair as it landed in Biarritz Parme Airport in France. The aircraft overshot the runway after it was destabilized and came into difficulty due to poor visibility conditions. Aviation Safety Network reported the damage of the aircraft. It said:
“The aircraft exited the runway on the left at a speed of 133 kt. The nose gear struck the concrete support of a light and broke. The right gear was damaged and the aircraft rolled approximately 400 m off the runway and came to rest near the runway, 1150 m from the threshold.”
Choosing new 737 variants
By the turn of the 1990s, Air France had only ever operated one model of the 737, the -200 variant. But throughout the 90s the airline received deliveries of the -500 variant and the -300 variant. Out of all the 737 aircraft that it owned, Air France had a strong preference for the 737-500. In total, it owned 31 and they began to arrive in 1990.
The first was F-GHOL which started its life with Air France. The airline continued to build out its fleet of -500s and by 2000 it already had 27. The final four aircraft arrived in 2000 and 2001. Air France decided to keep its fleet for 17 years which was considerably more than it kept the -300 variant.
The -300 variant arrived in 1991 with the delivery of F-GFUD in April. Air France completed its 12-strong fleet by 1998 and in 2004 it retired all of them. All the aircraft went on to operate with different airlines including FlyMe and Garuda. It appears as though the 737-500 was a much stronger addition to the fleet than the -300.
That said, the time did eventually come for the Boeing 737 to retire from the Air France fleet altogether. That happened in 2007 and it was a 737-500 that completed the ultimate farewell. The final commercial flight was taken by F-GJND. It left Turin, Italy and flew into Paris Charles de Gaulle on 11th June 2007 bringing the 737 operation to a close.
Why retire the 737?
When it came to retiring the 737, the choice may have come down to a question of loyalties. Air France retired its 737 aircraft for the Airbus A320, a direct competitor.
Over its lifetime, the airline is recorded by Air Fleets to have owned 130 of the aircraft on separate occasions in A320-100 and A320-200 variants. However, at present, whilst Air France’s fleet is weighted more on the Airbus side, the Boeing 777 is the largest single type fleet. It owns 70 of these in the -200 and -300 variants as well as two freighters.
What do you remember of Air France’s Boeing 737 fleet? Let us know in the comments!