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

A legendary fleet

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In 1933, Air France inherited a fleet of considerable size, but it lacked in power.

In total, it included 259 aircraft of 31 different types, and most dated back to the early days of commercial aviation. One such aircraft was the legendary Potez 25 – the 'hero' of Aéropostale in the Andes – with its single engine and two seats, including the pilot's.

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

Potez 25 - 1933

• Range: 500 km
• Cruising speed: 170 km/h
• Max. number of passengers: 1


There was a need for renewal. One year later, Air France had removed over a third of its original aeroplanes from its fleet, replacing them with more powerful models.

 

Dewoitine 338, the pre-war show-piece

The fleet was streamlined around three complementary models. The Bloch 220 – a modern 19-seater biplane – was introduced on European medium-haul routes. The Potez 62 (14 to 16 seats) was launched in Europe, the Far East and South America. Three versions of the Dewoitine 338 were deployed: in Europe (22 seats), Africa (15 seats) and the Far East (12 seats, including 6 chaise longue-style seats). With 25 of this flagship model in the pre-war fleet, it allowed Air France to really take off. The Dewoitine 338 meant that Indochina was five days' travel from Paris.


Dewoitine 338 - 1936

• Range: 2,000 km
• Cruising speed: 260 km/h
• Max. number of passengers: 22


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

In 1939, the fleet comprised 85 aeroplanes or seaplanes, all French-made, except a DC3 – the main manufacturers sat on the board of directors.

 

The Constellation dynasty

Partially depleted during World War II, the fleet became obsolete in 1946. It underwent profound modernisation, with full metal aircraft. It was the end of French-only aircraft: from 1948, half came out of American factories, such as the remarkable Douglas DC-3 and DC-4 – which Air France used for its Paris-New York route in 1946 – and the four-engine Lockheed Constellation. Constellation (the L-049 followed by the L-749, L-1049 and L-1649) became Air France's flagship brand on its main long-haul routes. No fewer than 62 models were used in the fleet between 1946 and 1967. One of these was the Super Starliner, which many see as the best propeller-driven aeroplane in history.

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

Lockheed Constellation L.1649 « Super Starliner » - 1957

• Range: 8,500 km
• Cruising speed: 570 km/h
• Max. number of passengers: 81


 

The "two best jets"

It was the golden age of propeller-driven aviation. It wouldn't last. The jets were already starting their engines! From 1953, the first jet plane, the De Havilland 106 'Comet', was introduced into UTA and Air France fleet, but quickly removed following two accidents involving BOAC aircraft. But in 1959, Air France launched nine Caravelles and three Boeing 707s in quick succession. The airline had entered the jet age. It was a revolution. With a 707, New York was eight hours from Paris, compared to 14 in a Super Constellation. And it could carry twice as many passengers.

Air France had the "two best jets on the world's biggest network". They monopolised aviation routes. Propeller-driven aircraft were relegated to secondary routes, converted to carry cargo, or simply scrapped. In 1969, the fleet consisted of 43 Caravelles and 33 B-707s. It had never been so uniform.

 

A 100% Airbus-Boeing fleet

With their lower operating costs, jets meant that ticket prices could be lowered. Traffic was booming, and manufacturers were looking to create bigger models. The Boeing 747 – and its about 500-seater cabin – entered into service at Air France in 1970. Mass transport had arrived.


Boeing B-747 - 1970
(passenger version)

• Range: up to 13,000 km
• Cruising speed: 1000 km/h
• Number of seats : 432 to 477


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

 

Four years later, 'Jumbo' was joined by the first of the Airbus range (the A-300). Airbus and Boeing soon provided the entire fleet. For better productivity, the aircraft were produced in 'families'. They each had their own characteristics, but used the same crews and were looked after by the same maintenance teams. Model after model was used on flights of all lengths.

The A-320 and its derivatives (A319, A321) became the mascot of medium-haul flights (81 have been used since the model first entered service in 1988 – a record). The A-330, A-340 and B-777 models shone on long-haul flights. The most recent model has been used since 2010: the A-380, the giant of the air (516 seats). Meanwhile, the fleet also welcomed Concorde (1974-2003), the iconic commercial supersonic aircraft, which was capable of travelling from Paris to New York in slightly more than three hours.

  • Airbus A320 - 2014 ©Christophe Leroux
  • Boeing 777-300ER - 2014 ©Christophe Leroux
  • Airbus A380 - 2009 ©H.Gousse, Airbus Industrie

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