© Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR

1946-1958 Flying high

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Boosted by the expanding air transport industry, the airline experienced a spectacular boom. With a renewed fleet, it increased its network's density and expanded into Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Air France reborn

Nationalized on 26 June 1945, the airline began operating under the Air France name once more on 1 January 1946. The former private company Air France became state-owned. Everything had to be re-built. Its directors made decisions of crucial importance. They restructured the network, giving priority to long-haul routes such as Paris-New York, opened in July 1946. Within France, only two routes were retained: Paris-Lyon-Marseilles and Paris-Nice.
The fleet was renewed. Air France ordered the latest aircraft from the United States, such as four-engine aircraft from Douglas and Lockheed.

To successfully run this booming business, the airline was constantly hiring. On 1 January 1946, Air France employed 6,000 staff; three years later, it had almost 14,000! Among these new employees were the first air hostesses.

 

The first air hostesses

Air France had made the decision to increase the number of women in its flight crews, a practice that had developed in the United States from 1930. The first hostesses had to be between 21 and 30 years old, have a 'pleasant face', have character and dignity – as well as being single (a rule that applied until 1963). They could not be smaller than 1.55 metres or taller than 1.70 metres. Often, they had previously been air rescue nurse-pilots, and had received six months' training near Paris.

 

Air transport takes off

In just three years, Air France reclaimed its place among international airlines. The competition was getting tougher. In France alone, there were 24 private airlines (including the UAT – Union Aéromaritime de Transport – and TAI - Transports Aériens Intercontinentaux). Air transport had undergone a spectacular expansion. In 1949, over 20 million passengers were transported worldwide, compared to 6 million in 1945.

  • Meal service on a Constellation - 1938/39 © Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR
  • Air France agency in Honk-Kong © Collection Air France
  • Lockheed L049 Constellation - 1948 © Collection Air France

The Max Hymans era

In 1948, Max Hymans, secretary-general of civil aviation and a specialist in aeronautical issues, was appointed head of Air France. He would have a great impact on the airline's history. Gifted with excellent business sense, he forged a number of alliances and strengthened the airline's long-haul activities. Paris-New York became the jewel in the airline's crown, a route that benefited from the most modern aircraft of the time.

Max Hymans did not hesitate to oppose the government's desire to buy French-built aircraft, instead preferring Douglas DC-4s and the Lockheed Constellation range.

 

The Golden age

His strategy proved sound. Luxury Air France services became increasingly prized by the airline's international clientele. One such service was the "Parisian special" to New York, the very essence of French refinement: private cabins, chef-cooked meals, a Champagne reception... Air France became an ambassador for French cuisine. The airline recruited top chefs including Marcel Chémery from Chez Ledoyen and Fernand Deveaux, head pâtissier at Le Normandie.

It was the golden age of propeller-driven aviation. Breguet, Viscount and Lockheed Constellation renewed the fleet. The significant investment in aircraft saw less powerful models relegated to smaller routes, allowing a structured network to be built around the Orly hub with the arrival of DC4, from 1946.

 

Turning a corner

In 1956, at the end of a tremendous decade, Air France was ranked in 6th place among global airlines in terms of passenger traffic, just behind the major American airlines. Air France was one of the first european airlines to order large numbers of jets, including 10 Boeing 707s and 12 Caravelles from 1956. The airline was truly prepared at the dawn of a new era: the democratization of air transport.

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