© Air France
© Air France
The history of Air France is inextricably linked with the history of civil aviation and its technical and operational advances. From the very first flights in the 1910s to Concorde, tremendous feats have been accomplished by a few hundred men and women with a great love for far-off places and innovation. As the capacity of its aircraft has increased, Air France has always prioritised the safety and comfort of its customers and excellent on-board services. Thanks to its assets, the airline is now part of AFKL, the world’s leading airline group.
In the excitement of the Roaring Twenties, French society developed a passion for far-off places which gradually became accessible thanks to the very first planes. Pilots and passengers alike took part in this adventure. After the First World War, during which aviation had made huge technological leaps forward, several airlines appeared.
On 30 August 1933, at the instigation of the Minister for Air Transport, Pierre Cot, the five main French airlines, Air Orient, Air Union, Lignes Farman, CIDNA and, a little later, Aéropostale, merged to form a single national airline. This new national institution did not yet have a name. It was George Raffalovitch, a journalist at Le Journal, who came up with “Air France” at the press conference held by Louis Allègre, the airline’s first Director-General.
Air travel was expanding rapidly and Air France kept up with the demand. First step: increasing the network’s density by expanding its network to Africa, Asia and the Americas and increasing long-haul routes such as Paris – New York, which opened in July 1946.
Jets revolutionised air travel. These more powerful aircraft were able to transport more passengers faster and further. Jets such as the Caravelle and the Boeing 707 enabled Air France to double its traffic in ten years.
As Air France entered the era of mass transport, it was faced with fierce competition and a series of oil crises. The airline came through this turbulence and enabled Concorde, one of the most beautiful airliners in history, to take flight. Air France was extending its international reach thanks to jumbo jets such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus 300, which it was the first airline to use.
Economic conditions started to deteriorate. Thanks to a recovery plan, Air France underwent thorough modernisation. It aimed to “make the sky the best place on earth”.
In 1993, Air France bought UTA, itself the main shareholder of Air Inter. The three airlines then formed the Air France Group.
In 2004, along with KLM, Air France created one of the world leaders in air transport for passengers, cargo and maintenance. The birth of the Air France-KLM group was followed by the privatisation of Air France the same year. The group then became the world’s leading airline in terms of turnover and the third largest in terms of the number of passengers carried (66 million for 550 aircraft operated in 2003).