Air France entered the era of mass transport. Faced with competition and oil crises, the airline dealt with the turbulence and gave wings to one of the most beautiful birds in history - Concorde.
Giants of the air
Air France continued its soaring development in the 1970s. Thanks to jumbo jets – the Boeing 747 and the Airbus 300, which it was the first airline to use – Air France highlighted its international influence. These giants of the air were put into service on the major routes, freeing a fleet of Boeing 707s for new routes, such as the 'Siberian' – Paris-Moscow-Tokyo. The Boeing 747 was no faster than a B707, but it did fly further, and most importantly, it could carry three times as many passengers – over 400! It was the largest commercial aircraft that had ever been put into service. Its arrival definitively marked the fact that Air France was now in the era of mass transport.
Roissy, the airport of the future
The number of passengers passing through Paris had been doubling every year since 1950. With Orly, close to saturation, a new airport was needed.
After eight years of work, Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport was officially opened at Roissy-en-France in 1974, 23 km to the north of Paris. Its architecture might have been controversial, but its progressive design anticipated the massive boom in traffic. For Air France, it was the airport of the future.
The legendary Concorde
In 1976, Concorde joined the fleet. The 'beautiful white bird' sped between Paris, Dakar, Rio de Janeiro, then Caracas, Washington, Dallas and New York.
The supersonic hundred-seater linked Paris to New York in three-and-a-half hours – faster than the sun! Inside, the luxury service and narrow cabin resembled an ultramodern take on the golden age of prestige aviation. The interior was designed by Raymond Loewy.
The situation took a turn for the worse. The sector was hit hard by the oil crises of 1973 and 1979. Competition became fiercer, fanned by the emergence of charter airlines.
Air France stood firm. From its new hub at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, it continued with its modernization, became computerized, and developed its freight activities, mainly via freight-only Boeing 747s capable of transporting up to 110 tons of goods.
Air travel for all
Air France began adapting to the new status quo: the arrival of mass transport. Democratization took a new direction thanks to jumbo jets, with their bigger cabins and lower prices. Arriving alongside the historic markets – businessmen, diplomats, rich expatriates – were new kinds of customers, who were focused on leisure travel. To the first group, Air France offered Concorde and introduced Business Class, followed by Air France Le Club class. To the second, it offered 'Holiday Flights'.
The airline's strong position continued to take shape, boosted by the spectacular growth in tourist-based connections, to the West Indies, Polynesia, and France, the world's top tourist destination.
Objective : Europe
Although it was a global influence, Air France was less well-known in Europe. It used its new Parisian terminal – Roissy-CDG 2 (1982) – as a base to reclaim Europe with its new medium-haul fleet of Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s. In 1988, it had the largest number of destinations in Europe (82).
At the end of the 1980s, Air France climbed to third place in the world in terms of passenger traffic. But with deregulation and economic crisis, the next decade would be a decisive one.
Air France increased subcontracting with airlines operating smaller aircraft with less than one hundred seats, mainly on the Province-Europe network.