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Home » Historic Planes: A Closer Look at 90 Years of Air France Aircraft

Historic Planes: A Closer Look at 90 Years of Air France Aircraft

    Throughout its 90-year history, Air France has remained at the forefront of aviation innovation by investing in a diverse and modern fleet. Over the years, the airline has constantly upgraded its aircraft to ensure the highest standards of travel experience. Let’s have a look at Air France’s classic planes.

    Air France 90th-anniversary dress by Xavier Ronze, costume designer at the Paris Opera Ballet. Source: Air France

    1930s: Resolving an Inherited Mixed Fleet

    Dewoitine D.430 photo from L’Aerophile Salon 1932. Creative Commons license.

    In 1933, Air France inherited a sizable fleet of 259 aircraft with a range of models, many of which dated back to the early days of commercial aviation. However, the fleet lacked power and needed a significant upgrade. Air France strategically focused on three main aircraft models to address this issue to streamline its operations.

    One of the key models was the three-engine Dewoitine. It was available in three different versions and could accommodate up to 22 passengers. These reliable aircraft were gradually deployed across Europe, Africa, and the Far East, strengthening Air France’s presence. The airline acquired 25 Dewoitine aircraft, enabling them to connect Paris to Indochina in just five days.

    In 1935, Air France added the Potez 62 to its fleet. With seating capacity for up to 16 passengers, these aircraft served routes to Europe, the Far East, and the Santiago de Chile-Buenos Aires route. It further expanded Air France’s global reach.

    Finally, in 1937, the modern and efficient Bloch 220 biplane joined Air France’s fleet. With seating for 16 passengers, this aircraft became a staple on European medium-haul routes, enhancing Air France’s continental connectivity.

    Through these strategic fleet upgrades, Air France demonstrated its commitment to providing exceptional travel experiences. They ensured the airline’s success in efficiently and comfortably delivering passengers to their destinations.

    1940s-1960s: The Lockheed Constellation

    Air France Lockheed Constellation
    Air France Lockheed Constellation. Source: Air France

    During the period of 1939, Air France operated a fleet consisting of 85 aircraft, primarily manufactured in France. However, significant changes occurred during and after World War II, leading to a modernization overhaul.

    From 1948, American-built planes started dominating the fleet, including notable models like the Douglas DC-3 and DC-4. These aircraft played a crucial role in Air France’s expansion, especially during the launch of the Paris-New York route in 1946.

    Additionally, Air France added renowned models like the Lockheed Constellation, Super Constellation, and the impressive Super Starliner. These luxurious four-engine propeller planes marked the golden era of Air France’s premium services.

    Notable offerings during this time included the “L’épicurien” to London in 1950 and the iconic “Parisien spécial” to New York in 1953. The latter featured 34 couchette seats and seven private cabins with beds aboard the Super Constellation.

    These pressurized aircraft revolutionized long-haul travel, capable of accommodating between 48 and 92 passengers. The fleet saw the operation of 62 different versions of the aircraft between 1946 and 1967, serving various vital international routes.

    1959: The Dawn of the Jet Age

    The start of inflight movies on a Boeing 707. Source: Air France

    During the mid-20th century, there was a notable shift in aviation from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines. This transition was exemplified by Air France, which in 1959 introduced the innovative Caravelle and Boeing 707 jets. These jets revolutionized air travel by significantly reducing flight times and expanding Air France’s network.

    The Caravelle, with its distinctive design featuring large egg-shaped windows, rear-mounted engines, and a retractable staircase, became Air France’s flagship aircraft for European and Mediterranean flights. It even gained recognition as the presidential aircraft for General de Gaulle and had the privilege of transporting numerous celebrities. Pilots praised its spacious wings for enabling smooth landings.

    Meanwhile, the Boeing 707 became the preferred choice for transatlantic flights. It cut the travel time between Paris and New York from fourteen to eight hours and accommodated up to 142 passengers. Air France introduced inflight movies in 1966 on the Boeing 707, further elevating the travel experience.

    By 1969, Air France boasted a fleet of 43 Caravelle and 33 Boeing 707 jets. This created a more uniform and cost-effective operation. Lower fares, fueled by reduced operating costs, attracted many travelers. As air traffic soared, aircraft manufacturers began exploring larger and more advanced models. This led to the introduction of the Boeing 727 on the Paris-London route in 1968. The airline introduced the Boeing 737 on the Paris-Barcelona route in 1983, gradually replacing the Caravelle.

    The transition from propeller-driven aviation to jet-powered travel marked a pivotal moment in the airline industry. It enhanced efficiency, speed, and passenger comfort. Air France played a significant role in embracing these advancements and shaping the future of air travel.

    1970: The Queen of the Skies

    Air France Boeing 747-400 (F-GITH) landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
    Air France Boeing 747-400 (F-GITH) landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. John Murphy Creative Commons

    In 1970, Air France introduced the iconic Boeing 747, the “Jumbo Jet” and the “Queen of the Skies.” With its distinctive hump, this revolutionary aircraft marked a new era in air travel. It provided accessibility to a larger number of passengers. With a capacity of more than 500 customers, the Boeing 747 enabled Air France to introduce their affordable “Vacances” cabin class. It offered simplified services at attractive fares.

    Originally launched on the Paris-New York route, the Boeing 747 quickly became the industry standard for long-haul flights. It made not only distant destinations more accessible but also more affordable for travelers. Additionally, the aircraft featured a luxurious First Class cabin, complete with a lounge bar, artistically decorated interiors, and exceptional service.

    Over the years, Air France operated 74 Boeing 747 aircraft, serving various versions and configurations. However, by 2016, after 47 years of service, Air France retired the Boeing 747 from the fleet. This marked the end of an era in aviation history.

    1976: The launch of Concorde Service

    Air France Concorde. Source: Air France

    In 1976, Air France unveiled the revolutionary Concorde aircraft capable of carrying 100 passengers. The Concorde quickly became an icon of luxury travel, offering supersonic flights to destinations like Rio, Caracas, and Washington. One of its most remarkable achievements was the Paris-New York route launched on November 22, 1977. Travelers could reach their destination in 3 hours and 39 minutes.

    Flying at an altitude of 17,000 meters and speeds of 2,200 km/h over the vast Atlantic, the Concorde provided a truly unique and exhilarating experience. It featured an elegantly decorated interior, an exclusive experience. The premium services Air France offered to Concorde clients were a nod to the golden age of aviation. The Concorde reigned as the pinnacle of prestige travel for 27 years until its retirement in 2003.

    2009: The A380 Superjumbo

    Air France Airbus A380 landing at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. Photo: Olivier CABARET, Creative Commons

    In 2009, Air France added the Airbus A380 to its fleet. It became the first European airline to offer flights on this impressive aircraft. With a seating capacity of 538 spread over two floors, the A380 allowed Air France to offer unprecedented comfort and luxury to its passengers. Notably, Air France was also the pioneer in offering transatlantic travel between Europe and the United States on the A380. Air France operated 10 A380s until 2020, solidifying its leadership in aviation innovation and excellence.

    Present Day: A350-900s

    Air France A350 in flight. Source: Air France

    Air France ordered 41 Airbus A350-900s, with deliveries scheduled until 2025. An additional order for 50 Airbus planes was announced by the Air France-KLM Group in September 2023. The first deliveries of these planes are expected in 2026.

    On the Airbus A350, Air France offers its latest travel experience. It features fully flat beds and private spaces in the Business cabin. This modern cabin design is also available on selected Boeing 777-300 ERs.

    In a nod to its heritage and the diversity of French culture, Air France has resumed its tradition of naming its aircraft after French cities. The airline aims to showcase the rich history and cultural heritage of different regions in France. Passengers will notice names like Toulouse, Pointe-à-Pitre, Cannes, Fontainebleau, and Aubusson prominently displayed on the front of the fuselage.

    Passengers can experience the comfort and elegance of Air France’s Airbus A350 fleet while enjoying a view of the breathtaking beauty of France.

    A220-300s for Short- and Medium-Haul Routes

    Air France A220-300. Note the Air France iconic winged seahorse on the engines. Source: Airbus

    Introducing the Airbus A350 on its long-haul routes was just the beginning for the airline. Air France announced the addition of their first Airbus A220-300 in 2021. This aircraft will be the flagship for their short- and medium-haul flights. It will replace the older Airbus A318s, A319s, and some Airbus A320s. What sets the Airbus A220-300 apart is its exceptional energy efficiency. It consumes 20% less fuel than its predecessors, resulting in a significant 20% reduction in CO2 emissions. Additionally, its noise footprint is impressively 34% lower.

    These extraordinary features are vital in reducing Air France’s environmental impact and accomplishing its sustainable development goals. The rapid fleet renewal strategy of Air France now extends to the Airbus A350 and A220. The airline aims to have 70% of its fleet consist of state-of-the-art aircraft by 2030. This is part of Air France’s commitment to innovation and sustainability for the next 90 years of air travel.

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