Air France Eyes 737 MAX If A220 Stretch Doesn’t Happen

Air France is sitting on a large order of Airbus A220-300s to replace its A318s and A319s. However, the jury is still out on what aircraft will replace its larger narrowbodies, the A320 and A321. Speaking at a conference today, CEO Ben Smith said that an A220 stretch would be ideal, but that if it was not forthcoming, the company might even consider the 737 MAX.

Air France is holding out for an announcement on the A220-500. Photo: Airbus

A220 to replace smaller Airbus narrowbodies

It’s been almost 18 months since Air France revealed a huge order for the Airbus A220. Speaking at today’s Routes Reconnected conference, CEO of Air France-KLM Ben Smith spoke about the strategy for the incoming A220s.

“The plan today is that Air France has 114 narrowbody aircraft all in the A320 family … We’ve got the entire range of the Airbus narrowbody fleet. We have placed orders for 60 [A220s], so that’s about half of the narrowbody fleet. And we’ll make a decision on which type’s going to replace the other half of our narrowbody fleet.”

Air France is a long time Airbus customer and does indeed fly every model of the planemaker’s A320 family of aircraft. It currently operates 18 A318s, 33 A319, 44 A320, and 20 A321 narrowbodies. Interestingly, it has not yet taken any of the ‘neo’ variant, with only the original CEO version of the A320s in its fleet.

The order for the A220-300 is to replace smaller narrowbodies. Photo: Airbus

The order for the A220-300, announced in July last year, was firm for 60 aircraft with options for 60 more. These A220s are destined to replace all of the Air France A318 and A319 aircraft as they arrive, but that still leaves a gap in the replacement strategy.

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Air France could look at the 737 MAX

While the replacements for the smaller narrowbodies are in place, the airline still n needs to make a decision on what will replace the rest of its A320ceo family. 64 A320 and A321 are flying for Air France, with the former having an average age of 11 years and the latter 18 years.

Smith said that an A220 stretch would make sense for the replacement, but admitted that he would consider looking outside of Airbus if one was not forthcoming. He said,

“If Airbus decides to make a larger version of the A220, that could make sense. Of course, now that the MAX is flying again, we could look at that. And, of course, there’s always the A321, the LR and the XLR.”

Boeing 737 MAX
Air France has not ruled out an order for the 737 MAX. Photo: Boeing

While Air France has a very Airbus flavor to its fleet, it hasn’t always been the case. Over the years, it had operated 63 Boeing 737s, split between the -200, -300 and -500. The last of the type left the fleet in 2007. It’s interesting to think Air France could consider going back to the 737 now that the MAX is back in the skies; it would be an interesting point of leverage between the two manufacturers on pricing if it approached both for an offer.

Air France 737
Air France has operated the 737 in the past. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

What about the A220 stretch?

While the A320neo and A321neo would seem to be ideal replacements for the aging narrowbodies at Air France, the attraction of the A220 ‘stretch’ is not lost on Smith. The rationalization of the required tooling and pilot skills on that short-haul fleet would be beneficial to Air France, and would fit with its strategy of streamlining operations.

Adding the 737 would only be as much hassle as adding the A320neo to its fleet. With the A320ceos gone, Air France could remove tooling and spares for this aircraft family entirely. It would be a huge kick in the teeth for Airbus if it lost an order for its home airline to Boeing.

It’s not the first time that the airline has been noted to show interest in a larger version of the A220. In August last year, Smith said that Air France would be keen on an ‘A220-500’ if announced. Again, at its investors’ briefing last year, the Air France-KLM group noted it was studying an A220-500.

However, despite interest from Air France and other airlines, Airbus is yet to formally launch a stretch of its popular narrowbody. With the clocks ticking on Air France’s fleet replacement, Airbus could lose out to Boeing if it doesn’t make its move soon.