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AIR FRANCE

Air France splashes cash for airplane mega-order

Air France-KLM said on Friday it had split a mega order for 50 long-haul carriers evenly between Europe's Airbus and US rival Boeing, in a deal worth $11.3 billion.

The giant Franco-Dutch airline is to order 25 Airbus A350-900s and 25 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners with options to buy another 60 planes to renew its fleet with more fuel-efficient, lightweight models.

The order has attracted huge attention in France, where some politicians have put pressure on Air France-KLM to buy from Airbus — which has its major plant in Toulouse, in the south of the country — rather than from Boeing.

The planes will replace Air France’s A340 fleet and KLM’s stock of Boeing MD-11s, although neither of the new models using lightweight composite components is yet operational.

The deal, to be finalised by the end of the year, also includes options to buy 60 more planes, 25 for Boeing, bringing the total number of potential sales to 110, in an order potentially worth $26.96 billion.

Last week the airline’s chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said the proposed deal was to replace planes that will reach the end of their service in 2018-2020.

Air France-KLM, which is 15.7-percent owned by the French state, has been under French political pressure to order from Airbus, including a petition signed by 180 MPs.

President Nicolas Sarkozy in June wrote a letter to an MP from his UMP party saying he “was closely following the discussions between Airbus and Air France-KLM on upgrading its long-haul fleet”.

Sarkozy wrote: “I am sure that Air France-KLM will of its own accord recognise the qualities of the A350, a plane whose production we have supported with loans.”

In a statement, the airline stressed that its decision was founded on the planes’ technical characteristics and performance  

“For its first joint order, Air France-KLM made its choice following a detailed evaluation that brought out all the advantages of each aircraft, notably their energy and environmental performances,” Gourgeon said.

The first B787-9 will enter service with KLM in 2016 and the first A350-900 will enter services with Air France in 2018.

Airbus in July scored a victory against its US rival, when American Airlines announced a record order for 460 planes that included 260 Airbus aircraft, breaking Boeing’s monopoly of its fleet.

That split order marked a major setback for Boeing, supplier of American’s entire 600-plus plane fleet, which had not included an Airbus plane since 2009.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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