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

1959-1969 The jet age

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Caravelle, Boeing 707… Jets revolutionized air travel. These more powerful aircraft were able to transport more passengers quicker and further. Air France's traffic doubled in ten years.

A revolution

The arrival of jet planes revolutionized the world of air travel. A Boeing 707 was able to travel from Paris to New York in eight hours with 180 passengers – twice as many as a propeller-driven Super Constellation, which took over 14 hours for the same journey.

Soon afterwards, the Caravelle could be found on all European and Mediterranean routes, and the Boeing 707 was launched across the whole long-haul network. "The two best jets on the world's biggest network" was the new slogan.

The arrival of jets made it easier for Air France to redeploy itself, a process that was necessary for a number of reasons, including the emergence of new challengers.

 

Air Inter takes off

Air France had influence over the entire world, but only operated domestic routes as connecting flights for international customers, for example, to Nice. As a result, the French government encouraged the creation of a domestic airline, Air Inter, in 1954, which only really began operations at the beginning of the 1960s.

With a limited network served by Vickers Viscounts and then by Caravelles, the young airline gradually made France's regions less remote.

 

UTA, the international challenger

In 1963, the French government decided to redistribute international traffic rights. It gave the private airline UTA (Union des Transporteurs Aériens) – formed by a merger between UAT and TAI – a section of services to Africa as well as the Pacific.

With decolonization fully under way, Air France had to make concessions on its former 'imperial bastions', faced with the threat of a serious rival.

  • Caravelle III SE.210 " Lorraine" - 1959 © Collection Air France
  • UTA DC6 at the airport © Collection Air France
  • Maintenance on a Nord N-262 and a Vickers 724 Viscount on Air Inter workshops (Orly) © Collection Air France

Democratisation in action

Air travel was no longer a luxury reserved for a privileged few. In 1961, a return from Paris to New York cost three times less than in 1956. Although it retained a top-of-the-range image, perfectly embodied by its hostesses, whose uniforms were now designed by Dior, Air France increased access to air travel.

It lowered its prices, offered new on-board entertainment (cinema from 1966), and industrialized its services. Its hospitality supply centre at Orly became France's biggest kitchen.

 

The Post-war boom

Behind the scenes, Air France was undergoing an unprecedented change. The arrival of jets had turned the old way of operating on its head. Runways, boarding lounges, hangars and workshops now worked on a bigger scale. Orly's South terminal was opened in 1961. With its innovative architecture, Orly was the embodiment of French modernity, in full swing during this period in the middle of France's thirty-year post-war boom.

Able to welcome six million passengers and twenty-three aircraft on the runways, Orly was modern, functional, and luxurious. In 1965, four million curious visitors made the site the most popular in France – more so than the Eiffel Tower!

In 1965, Air France established its headquarters in Montparnasse.

 

All systems go

At the end of the 1960s, traffic rose spectacularly – over 5.5 million passengers travelled with Air France in 1969, twice as many as in 1959. The fleet was now exclusively made up of jets, significantly improving the airline's productivity. Air France's finances were also excellent. An optimistic start to the 1970s, another decade of change. In 1970, the first Boeing 747 took to the skies.

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