Plane evacuated in Paris as smoke fills cabin

Around 300 passengers on an Air France flight about to take off heading for China had to be evacuated from the plane after the cabin filled with smoke and the smell of sulphur.

Plane evacuated in Paris as smoke fills cabin
An Air France plane at Charles de Gaulle airport had to be evacuated after "dense smoke" filled the cabin. Photo: Kentaro Lemoto

An emergency evacuation was ordered as the Shanghai bound flight was preparing to take off from Charles de Gaulle airport with 298 passengers on board.

With dense smoke and a smell of sulphur quickly filling up the cabin the passengers were forced to exit the plane on the inflatable slides onto the tarmac below, airport sources told AFP.

“They were evacuated in an emergency at the time of boarding because of the release of a strong smell of sulphur and dense smoke,” Air France said in a statement after the incident on Sunday.

Two passengers were slightly injured in the incident with one suffering from smoke inhalation and the other suffered an injury to the elbow.

However both of the injured were expected to join the rest of the passengers on board a replacement flight that was due to leave for Shanghai on Monday afternoon.

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the incident. Airport sources told AFP that they believe it was a problem with the turbine or an electrical problem in the auxiliary engine, which powers a plane when its main engine has stopped.

However Air France have not confirmed these hypothesis. 

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Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs

Air France management said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs
An Air France plane lands at JFK airport in New York. Image: STAN HONDA / AFP

The carrier wants to get rid of 6,560 positions of the 41,000 at Air France, and 1,020 positions of the 2,420 at Hop!, according to a statement issued after meetings between managers and staff representatives.

“For three months, Air France's activity and turnover have plummeted 95 percent, and at the height of the crisis, the company lost 15 million euros a day,” said the group, which anticipated a “very slow” recovery.

The aviation industry has been hammered by the travel restrictions imposed to contain the virus outbreak, with firms worldwide still uncertain when they will be able to get grounded planes back into the air.

Air France said it wanted to begin a “transformation that rests mainly on changing the model of its domestic activity, reorganising its support functions and pursuing the reduction of its external and internal costs”.

The planned job cuts amount to 16 percent of Air France's staff and 40 percent of those at Hop!

With the focus on short-haul flights, management is counting mainly on the non-replacement of retiring workers or voluntary departures and increasing geographic mobility.

However, unions warn that Air France may resort to layoffs for the first time, if not enough staff agree to leave or move to other locations. 

'Crisis is brutal'

Shaken heavily by the coronavirus crisis, like the entire aviation sector, the Air France group launched a reconstruction plan aiming to reduce its loss-making French network by 40 percent through the end of 2021.

“The crisis is brutal and these measures are on an unprecedented scale,” CEO Anne Rigail conceded in a message to employees, a copy of which AFP obtained. They also include, she said, “salary curbs with a freeze on general and individual increases (outside seniority and promotions) for all in 2021 and 2022,” including executives of Air France.

The airline told AFP earlier this week that: “The lasting drop in activity and the economic context due to the COVID-19 crisis require the acceleration of Air France's transformation.”

Air France-KLM posted a loss of 1.8 billion euros in the first quarter alone, and has warned it could be years before operations return to pre-coronavirus levels.

Air France has been offered seven billion euros in emergency loans from the French state or backed by it, while the Dutch government approved a 3.4 billion euro package of bailout loans for KLM last week.

The group joins a long list of airlines that have announced job cuts in recent weeks.

Lufthansa is to slash 22,000 jobs, British Airways 12,000, Delta Air Lines 10,000 and Qantas 6,000.