It’s true that in the past Air France has had a somewhat checkered reputation when it comes to safety.
During the late 1980s, it suffered a couple of fatal air crashes. Those were followed in 2000 by the Concorde disaster at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport which signaled the demise of the supersonic jet’s services. Then in 2009, the airline suffered its worst ever air crash over the Atlantic Ocean when all passengers and crew on board died after the aircraft ditched into the ocean.
That said, since 2009, there have been no fatal Air France crashes, and today Air France demonstrates a strong commitment to safety. It is arguably as safe as any other major airline in the world and transports tens of millions of passengers safely each year.
Air France Operates a Modern Fleet
Some people get concerned when they realize that the airline they are flying with operates ‘old’ aircraft. However, aircraft safety is not so much about aircraft age, it’s more about the airline’s aircraft maintenance regime, and the airline’s safety policies and protocols.
Older aircraft are perfectly safe if they are properly and regularly maintained and can safely operate for 30 years or more when they are subject to regular and skilled maintenance checks. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the Air France fleet to try and put any concerns to rest.
Air France has a large mixed fleet of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, primarily comprising the Airbus A220, A318, A319, A320, A321, A330, and A350, and Boeing 777 and 787 (Dreamliner) aircraft.
Excluding the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) and Embraer fleet of the Air France subsidiary Hop!, according to Airfleets.net the overall average weighted age of the Air France fleet is 14.3 years.
The average Air France aircraft ages by aircraft type are shown in the table below. We can see that there is quite a range of ages across the different aircraft types. Air France’s A319s are its oldest aircraft type, with an average of 20.4 years. Air France’s oldest A319 was delivered in 1999. Air France’s youngest aircraft type is its brand new A220 first delivered in 2022.
|Aircraft||Number of Aircraft||Average Age/ years|
So, is an average fleet age of 14.3 years considered young or old?
The operating life of a modern jet aircraft depends on the number of ‘cycles’ it operates. Aircraft operating a lot of short-haul cycles can become life expired more quickly than aircraft that operate fewer longer-haul cycles. But as a ‘rule of thumb’ airlines can typically expect aircraft to last for 30 years or even more.
With that, with an average aircraft age of just over 14 years, many of Air France’s aircraft still have a lot of operational life left in them.
An average fleet age of 14 years is quite typical for a major international airline and is similar to many other major international airlines. For example, Lufthansa’s average fleet age is 10.5 years, United Airlines’ average fleet age is 16.5 years, and British Airways’ average fleet age is 12.9 years.
Air France Is IOSA-Certified and a Member of the SkyTeam Alliance
Air France has the highest possible, seven-star safety rating on AirlineRatings.com. While the rating is just a rough image of the overall efforts Air France puts into safety, it is a good indication of the airline being safe to fly with.
The rating is based on the following:
- Air France is IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit) certified. The audit is optional and assesses whether an airline has the necessary systems and processes in place to operate safely. Airlines are evaluated every two years. Some airlines skip this as it is an extra cost.
- Air France is not blacklisted in the European Union or the United States.
- France performs favorably in ICAO Country Audits which assess a nation’s approach to airline safety oversight and regulation.
- Air France has not suffered any fatal accidents within the last 10 years.
In addition to the above, Air France is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, one of the world’s three major airline alliances. Whilst membership in a major airline alliance is not a safety certification per se, it’s still a significant stamp of approval for the airline’s approach to safety and operations.
Other SkyTeam member airlines include KLM, Aerolíneas Argentinas, China Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Korean Air.
Air France Incidents and Accidents
Similar to many large airlines that have had a long operational history and that operate a large fleet, Air France’s safety record is not spotlessly clean.
If we look at Air France passenger aircraft incidents (excluding events such as hijackings, turbulence, or lightning strikes) within the last forty years or so we see fifteen notable incidents, four of which were fatal.
The four fatal accidents were in 1987, 1988, 2000, and 2009:
|December 1987||EMB120 Brasilia||Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport||The aircraft crashed into trees on its final approach as it had descended below the standard glideslope. All 16 occupants (3 crew members and 13 passengers) died in the accident.|
|June 1988||A320||Mulhouse-Habsheim Airport||The aircraft crashed near the airport during an air show while the flight crew was performing a flypast at low height and low speed. The aircraft struck treetops near the runway and crashed into a forest. Three passengers died and about 50 were injured.|
|July 2000||Concorde||Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport||Air France’s most infamous accident – the Concorde crashed into a hotel just after take-off. All 109 people on board died along with four people on the ground. According to the accident investigation report, the probable cause was the destruction of one of the aircraft’s tires after passing over a metal part on the runway that had fallen from a previous aircraft. The exploding tire penetrated one of the fuel tanks and ignited jet fuel causing a fire, and loss of thrust.|
|June 2009||A330||Atlantic Ocean||The aircraft flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people on board lost contact with air traffic control over the Atlantic Ocean and crashed following a stall. All passengers and crew members were killed in the crash. The crash is the deadliest in Air France’s history.|
The other non-fatal incidents worth noting are as follows:
|March 1982||A300||Sana’a International Airport||The aircraft suffered a right-hand engine failure and explosion resulting in an aircraft fire. No fatalities.|
|January 1984||747||Near Karachi, Pakistan||The aircraft suffered an explosion in the cargo hold shortly after departing from Karachi, Pakistan. This caused a hole in the right rear cargo hold, resulting in a loss of cabin pressure. The pilot immediately reduced altitude and the aircraft returned to Karachi without any fatalities.|
|December 1985||747||Rio de Janeiro Galeão International Airport||The aircraft veered off the runway and collided with a concrete ramp. There were no injuries or fatalities, although the aircraft was a write-off.|
|September 1993||747||Tahiti Faa’a International Airport||The aircraft skidded off the runway. No fatalities.|
|August 2005||A340||Toronto Pearson International Airport||The aircraft overshot the runway during a thunderstorm. The aircraft came to rest at the bottom of a ravine at the end of the runway next to a highway. All 297 passengers and 12 crew survived but the plane was completely destroyed by fire.|
|July 2015||777||Near Shanghai International Airport||The aircraft lost an actuator door after take-off, from Shanghai. The door fell to the ground and landed on a factory. The aircraft landed safely in Paris.|
|September 2017||A380||Near Greenland||The aircraft was en route from Paris to Los Angeles when it experienced an in-flight engine failure, and the engine inlet separated from the main engine assembly. The aircraft diverted to Goose Bay Airport in Newfoundland and made a safe emergency landing. No passengers or crew were injured.|
|October 2017||777||Near Beijing Capital Airport||The aircraft was flying from Beijing to Paris when it experienced an in-flight fire alarm, the pilot returned the aircraft safely to Beijing.|
|November 2018||777||Near Irkutsk, Russia||The aircraft was en route from Paris to Shanghai when it suffered a mechanical malfunction in flight and the cabin started to fill with smoke. The plane was safely diverted to Irkutsk.|
|September 2021||777||Near Beijing International Airport||The aircraft, en route from Beijing to Paris, suffered an explosion in the aft cabin shortly after take-off, filling the cabin with smoke. The aircraft returned safely to Beijing.|
|April 2022||777||Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport||On landing the aircraft became unresponsive, and the pilot aborted the landing and completed a go-around followed by a successful landing, there were no injuries/fatalities.|
Summary: Is Flying with Air France Safe?
Yes, flying with Air France is safe – as safe as with any other major airline. While it has had some serious incidents over the last forty years or so, there have been no fatal accidents within the last 10 years. Air France’s last fatal incident was in 2009.
Air France operates with safety protocols and procedures that are endorsed by its IOSA certification. Air France is also overseen by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and the DGAC which scores above the global average in ICAO’s Country Audits.
Air France is one of Europe’s biggest airlines, transporting large volumes of passengers each year safely. And despite some unfortunate incidents in the past, more recently its incident record has improved. I think it’s fair to say that based on recent performance, Air France is a safe airline to fly with.
If you are wondering what flying with Air France is like, check our reviews: