The Air France KLM Group, which operates both the Air France and KLM brands, is one of the world’s largest airline companies. Frank Legré has served as general manager for both airlines in China since 2005. He spoke with CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW about the rise of outbound Chinese tourists and how Air France-KLM are beefing up seating capacity ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Q: What in-flight services have Air France adapted to suit Chinese customers?
A:Since 1997, we have had Chinese interpreters on board; we offer Chinese newspapers and show Chinese movies and TV news. Chinese and French people share the love of good food. We are now introducing a choice of French and Chinese meal trays for Air France’s China routes. Chinese menus have been carefully selected by chefs from the internationally renowned South Beauty Restaurants. We would like our on board service to reflect Parisian elegance and French gastronomy. When you board an Air France plane, you already feel like you’re in France, with cabin crew welcoming you in “haute couture” uniforms designed by Christan Lacroix. This French touch is highly appreciated by most of our Chinese customers.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge Air France has faced in China?
A: Attracting more Chinese customers on board our China flights! French and European markets have currently the biggest share of passengers on our China routes. Now we would like to strike a better balance by increasing the share of Chinese passengers on our flights. Strong development of Chinese business in Europe, Africa and Latin America as well as the surge of Chinese tourists visiting France and Europe will help us fulfill this ambition.
Q: What are some of the most popular connecting flights among Chinese business travelers?
A: Apart from natural flow to Europe, the most popular connecting flights for Chinese business travelers are to Africa and Latin America.
Q: What route expansion plans does Air France have for China?
A: In 2005, we began our double daily flight structure to Beijing. Starting from June 9, Air France will offer a double daily flight on its Shanghai-Paris and Hong Kong-Paris routes. In total, Air France will operate 45 flights weekly between China and Europe: 14 weekly flights for Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and three weekly flights for Guangzhou. The Guangzhou flights will be operated by our SkyTeam partner China Southern. This summer, Air France and KLM will operate a total of 77 weekly flights, with five direct routes to China: Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Q: Is China doing enough in expanding its infrastructure to cope with added air travel demand?
A: The opening of the new air terminals in Beijing and Pudong airports will no doubt be a milestone for the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Apart from ground infrastructure, we believe there is room for improvement in the air traffic control management in China. There are still too few air routes authorized for Europe-bound flights, which creates a bottleneck for our departing flights. We know CAAC is working hard on it, in close cooperation with the Chinese military, and we hope to see a positive change in the coming years.
Q: How will the Olympics affect flight demand?
A: We expect a high demand from Europe during the Olympic period, from late July to early September. To cater for this additional demand, we will operate two daily Paris-Beijing B777-300s (capacity: 315 seats), in addition to three charter flights for the French Olympic delegation. Our sister airline KLM, which operates from Amsterdam to Beijing, will change equipment from B747 Combi to B747 full-pax (capacity: 436 seats) on key dates. But one of our main challenges here will be to convince our Beijing customers to continue traveling to Europe during July and August. We want to avoid too much imbalance in our traffic flows!
Q: What can you tell us about the plans for Air France-KLM and China Southern Airlines to set up a joint venture for cargo-hauling?
A: We would like to start this joint venture towards the end of 2008. It will have a large scope of activity, covering domestic, pan-Asian, trans-Pacific and European sectors. As negotiations have yet to be completed, it would be premature to disclose more details now.