Air France decided to provide its own maintenance for its planes from the beginning.
A PRIORITY SINCE THE ORIGINS
Air France relied upon quality technicians to inspect mechanical systems that certainly had their quirks, and repair the damage caused by flight conditions, which could sometimes be very rough. The stakes were high: protecting human lives, and optimising the use of the aircraft.
MORE THAN HALF OF STAFF
Even back in 1934, maintenance made up the majority of the airline's staff: more than 1,300 employees. They included mechanics, electricians, and boilermakers… but also carpenters and "canvassers." The structure of some planes was still made out of wood and canvas. The work was sometimes done at the edge of the runway, in field workshops that were part of the budding scenery of aviation. There were also technical bases integrated into Air France's three hubs: Le Bourget, Toulouse-Montaudran, and Marseille-Marignane, where in particular hydroplanes were maintained, still numerous at the time. Up until 1939, all of the fleet was French-made: Dewoitine 338, Bloch 220, etc.
FROM CRAFTSMANSHIP TO INDUSTRY
With the growth of air traffic after the war, aviation became industrial. Staff numbers reached 7,000 in 1949. Hangars took on a new scale. Aircraft were getting larger and larger, were made of metal – careers like "canvasser" disappeared – and were American: Douglas DC3s and DC4s, Lockheed Constellations, and the like. New methods, often imported from across the Atlantic, were implemented. Constant maintenance became a widespread practice. It became a condition for obtaining the plane's airworthiness certificate. The schedule included inspections before each flight, day or night, by field mechanics. It also included periodic maintenance inspections, particularly the "big inspection," during which the plane was fully inspected. These inspections took place in Air France workshops located around the world: Algiers, Dakar, Saigon, and especially Orly, where the Le Bourget facilities were transferred in 1954. An engine inspection workshop also opened in Courbevoie.
IMMENSE TECHNICAL PROGRESS
At the end of the 1950s, the arrival of jets was a turning point for the workshops, especially on the engine side. There were no more "eyeball" inspections. A turbojet, protected in its chamber, cannot be disassembled like a piston engine. It was necessary to learn how to work with X-rays and ultrasound. Beyond the engine, planes had technologies – electronic, telecommunications, and computer – that required new skills and radically different working methods. Air France came to rely upon its Vilgénis instructional centre, the cultural hub of the company, which had opened in 1948.
Air France maintenance teams strengthened their expertise, including when it came to maintenance of the Concorde (which joined the fleet in 1974). In fact, many airlines gradually started to call upon their services. Today, more than 150 airlines around the world trust Air France Industries, as the airline's maintenance division is now known.