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Air France sheds freighters, closes cargo center

By control on September 18, 2013

By Adina Solomon

Air France is phasing out its B747-400s, beginning with its three B747-400ER freighters, and closing one of its cargo centers.

These changes were announced Wednesday as part of the airline’s plan to ensure the sustainability of the company. In addition, 2,800 jobs will be cut in 2014.

“We don’t really need them any more since we have a really large fleet of passenger aircraft,” Jean-Claude Raynaud, spokesman for Air France, says of the freighters.

The 747-400s will be phased out gradually until the beginning of 2016, leaving Air France with two B777 freighters and a large fleet of B777ER passenger aircraft.

“These passenger aircraft offer us enough capacity in the belly-holds to satisfy our cargo demands,” Raynaud tells Air Cargo World. “The cargo market is not as good as it used to be before, so the need, the demand, for additional capacity is not there.”

Air France is also phasing out older aircraft in order to make room for new aircraft that will arrive on the market in 2016, he says.

“This is just a natural process that all airlines do, not only Air France,” Raynaud says.

Most of the airline’s fleet is leased, so it will return a lot of the aircraft. Air France will try to sell the two freighters it owns, he says.

In a year, the airline is closing a small cargo warehouse at Paris Orly Airport. About 90 percent of Air France’s activity takes place at Charles De Gaulle Airport. Its operation at Paris Orly consists mostly of flights to the French West Indies.

Paris Orly’s cargo warehouse mainly caters to freight going in the belly-hold of aircraft bound for the West Indies.

Instead of maintaining this warehouse, Air France can just truck cargo from Charles de Gaulle to Paris Orly, which are only 40 kilometers (25 miles) apart.

“There’s no sense in maintaining this warehouse,” Raynaud explains.

After it closes in a year, the warehouse will be leased back to the airport. He says the 100 people who work there will be offered new positions.

While explaining all these changes, Raynaud comes back to one point: “Bellies first is our policy.”

A smaller freighter fleet will suffice for Air France, he says. In the past, the airline carried 50 percent of its global cargo annually on freighters – now that has dropped to 30 percent.

That’s why Air France is “re-dimensioning” its freighter fleet, Raynaud says.

“We are re-dimensioning it to the reality of the market and the reality of our needs,” he says. “We don’t need to keep in the long run as many freighters as we had before.”