Air France commenced (25-Oct-2009) service with the first aircraft featuring the Premium Voyageur cabin on its Paris-Charles de Gaulle-New York-JFK route. The new seat offers 40% more space in a new private cabin, with a seat width of 43cm and a recline of 123°. With the new product, Air France is the first European airline to offer a reclining seat inside a fixed shell in an intermediary cabin. The Premium Voyageur seat will be progressively introduced on all Air France long-haul services operated by B777, A340 and A330 aircraft. This new cabin is currently available on services to six destinations: Beirut, Hong Kong, New York, Beijing, New York, Singapore and Tokyo. [more]
Air France's Premium Economy product launched
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Air France-KLM: long haul low cost airline could be part of new CEO's vision as French Blue enters
Air France-KLM chairman and CEO, Jean-Marc Janaillac, who took charge in Jul-2016, has talked about the possibility of launching long haul low cost operations (Bloomberg/luchtvaartnieuws.nl, 20-Sep-2016).
If Air France-KLM were to enter this segment it would be the second of Europe's big three legacy airline groups to do so, after the Lufthansa Group. Ironically, there is no long haul low cost competition to Lufthansa in Germany. By contrast, IAG faces more such competitors in the UK than either of its two major rival groups in their largest home market, but currently has no plan for such an operator.
Air France-KLM management told analysts on a conference call in May-2016 that it was sceptical about the sustainability of year-round profits for long haul low cost. However, new competition has prompted Mr Janaillac to look more closely at this market segment. Since Jul-2016 Norwegian has commenced trans-Atlantic long haul operations from Paris CDG. In addition, since Sep-2016, the new-start long haul LCC French Blue now flies on routes to the Caribbean. Mr Janaillac is expected to report on his strategic vision for Air France-KLM in early Nov-2016. Labour relations will be crucial to the group's development – not least in the area of long haul low cost.
Chinese long haul secondary city air routes: BA's Chengdu exit does not reflect the broader market
The fastest long haul airline growth is not occurring with Gulf airlines but rather, with services to and from secondary Chinese cities. It is not a secret that local incentives and subsidies, generally common in any market, are especially large in price and duration for secondary Chinese cities. An airline might expect over a third of revenues to be subsidised. This drastically alters the business case in a low-margin industry, hence the proliferation of secondary city services. This extreme dependence on subsidies raises the question of how long governments are willing to issue generous subsidies, and how many routes can be sustainable without them.
British Airways' decision to exit its only secondary Chinese route to Chengdu, in Jan-2017, might suggest the music is ending and the secondary long haul bubble is popping. There is added colour given the recent UK-China air service agreement expansion, and Brexit/British pound depreciation overhangs.
BA's exit does confirm market fundamentals: secondary city yields are low, and some routes are ahead of their time. Yet a number of factors unique to British Airways suggest caution in concluding that BA's Chengdu exit could foreshadow other withdrawals.