CEO of Air France-KLM Ben Smith has confirmed plans to fully integrate the Hop! brand into Air France. The airline will become a regional feeder for Air France, rebranded in line with the main airline. Smith is targeting a shrink of around 50% for Hop!, which will see it emerge as an all-Embraer airline.
An all-Embraer Air France brand
Air France-owned regional airline Hop! has had mixed success as a standalone operator. It’s distinct branding and separate marketing and operations led to inefficiency in the Air France Portfolio, something that the new boss at the group is keen to iron out.
Speaking at this week’s Routes Reconnected, CEO of Air France-KLM Ben Smith explained the position with Hop!. He said,
“For Hop!, we’ve shrunk it by 50%. It’s going to be at Roissy, CDG, and it’s got a sort of mini-hub at Lyon.
“Hop will become an all-Embraer fleet around those two cities or those two airports. We’re removing the brand, so it’s basically like most regional operators’ airlines; it will be Air France operated by Hop!”
While the rebrand is no big surprise, the news that it will become an all-Embraer fleet is new. Right now, the airline operates a mix of Bombardier and Embraer aircraft, with 25 CRJs and 45 ERJs. The CRJ-700s are aging, averaging 16.5 years across the fleet. However, many of the CRJ-1000s are still quite young, most under 10 years of age.
Also aging is its fleet of ERJ-145s. These 13 aircraft are all over 15 years old, with some as old as 23. Since being grounded earlier this year, none has flown for Hop!. With Smith talking about a 50% shrink, he’s got to be targeting 35 or so aircraft for Hop!. This may well mean only the E-170 and E-190 will stay; perhaps we could even see an order for the reimagined E2 jets in future as well.
Simplifying and boosting efficiency
Smith talked at length about his plans for the main Air France brand, as well as for Transavia and Hop! during the interview. Since his arrival at Air France-KLM in 2018, Smith has been on a mission to drive down the inefficiencies at both airlines, and to streamline every element of its operation.
We’ve already seen the impact of this in a number of moves. Closing down Joon made sense to Smith, because it was really just replicating the work of Air France to no benefit of the business. The downturn in demand gave him his window of opportunity to get shot of the A380s, leaving future large-capacity widebody operations focused on the more efficient A350 and Boeing 777.
Bringing Hop! into the Air France family more closely is simply an extension of everything else he’s been doing. It’s not driven by the pandemic, but has certainly become more urgent. He talked about the inefficiencies of running Hop as a separate entity, saying,
“Hop! was actually marketed separately. It had its own revenue management system, it had its own scheduling depot, and then it would codeshare with Air France. So it’s really going to be a regional feeder carrier.”
In the US, having regional feeders for big airlines at their hubs is normal. Look at American Eagle or Delta Connect, operated by other airlines but with a greater alignment of operations and branding. For Air France, it’s about time – KLM has had Cityhopper for many years, and now both Air France and Hop! will benefit from a similar degree of integration.