Air France-KLM Orders Seven More A350s In Latest Fleet Renewal Step

Air France A350-900 over water
Credit: Air France

PARIS—Air France-KLM has announced a new firm order for Airbus A350s in the latest step of its fleet renewal drive, a key tool in its decarbonization strategy. 

Three more A350-900s have been ordered for Air France and four A350F freighters are now destined for Martinair, which will operate the aircraft on behalf of KLM Cargo. 

The firm order for the additional A350-900 passenger aircraft will see Air France’s A350 fleet eventually rise to 41. The three aircraft will replace previous-generation aircraft and will be fitted out with business, premium economy and economy seats. Deliveries are expected in 2024, after which the aircraft will be based at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.  

“Since its entry into service at Air France, the A350-900 has proved to be a reliable and efficient aircraft, as well as a game changer in terms of reduction of CO2 and noise emissions,” Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith said Jan. 27. “We will continue our efforts to renew our fleet as quickly as possible to provide our customers with the best customer experience possible and to meet our ambitious decarbonization targets.”   

On the short-haul side, the airline group has been adding A220s to its fleet. Air France CEO Anne Rigail told Aviation Daily at an Air France-KLM event in Paris on Jan. 26 that the airline is still keen on an A220 stretch, an aircraft that Airbus has previously said it will eventually offer.  

“We’re still interested, it would allow us to meet the needs of certain routes that need more capacity but the same pilot qualifications,” Rigail said. “But we don’t have any particular developments on this.”

747F Replacement

The four A350F freighters, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines, will replace four Boeing 747Fs currently operated by the group. Deliveries for the yet-to-be-certified A350F are expected to start from the second half of 2026. 

Air France-KLM says the A350F offers a reduction of over 40% in CO2 emissions compared to the Boeing 747F, while the new-generation aircraft’s noise footprint is also 50% lower. Noise has become a more important consideration for aircraft operating out of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, where the Dutch government wants to impose a flight-capacity cap, partly to reduce the noise impact of the airport on the local area. 

KLM has criticized the proposal, which was put forward in June 2022. Under the potential scheme, the Dutch government would mandate that Schiphol no longer be allowed to exceed the established noise-nuisance limits, effectively limiting flight movements to a maximum of 440,000 a year, compared to the current 500,000 limit. Previous government plans were to allow for growth to 540,000, although that step was not confirmed. 

“Fleet renewal is an important part of KLM’s ambition to become more sustainable,” KLM CEO Marjan Rintel said. “In this, we take our responsibility. We want to emit less CO2 because of the climate and reduce noise for local residents.”   

She added that the carrier had decided to replace its freighters from autumn 2026 instead of the originally planned date of 2027.  

The latest A350F order follows on from a previous order placed in December 2021 and firmed in April 2022 for four A350Fs for Air France. 

Sustainable Cargo Growth

Air France-KLM said the latest order meant both carriers would be among the launch operators for the A350F freighter.  

“This investment is evidence of our confidence in the sustainable growth of the cargo market in the coming years, as well as our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint,” Smith said.  

Air France-KLM Group’s decarbonization strategy aims for a 30% reduction of CO2 emissions per passenger/km by 2030 compared to 2019, with targets approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). 

As of Dec. 31, 2022, Air France-KLM operated a fleet of 506 aircraft, including six full freighters. 

Smith told attendees at the Jan. 26 event that Air France activity levels were near pre-pandemic levels in all regions except Asia. The same day, the airline confirmed it would be increasing its flights between Paris and China, where it operates to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, following Chinese authorities’ decision to lift travel restrictions.  

Referring to the problems of operational disruption and staff shortages that Air France-KLM and other European operators faced in summer 2022, Smith said, “I am quite confident that by this summer we’ll be able to put in place all the capacities we had originally planned.”  

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.