Air France’s decision to dramatically thin out its domestic network highlights a trend set in motion even before the pandemic upended travel behavior: aircraft are increasingly losing their competitive edge on shorter routes.
(Bloomberg) — Air France’s decision to dramatically thin out its domestic network highlights a trend set in motion even before the pandemic upended travel behavior: aircraft are increasingly losing their competitive edge on shorter routes.
The French carrier will pull out of the Paris Orly airport by 2026, from where it served secondary French cities including Toulouse, Marseille and Nice. The move follows what Air France said has been a 40% drop in domestic air travel, and even by 60% for one-day return trips.
The decline has been felt across Europe, particularly since the pandemic gave rise to conference calls that have often replaced personal meetings, crimping corporate trips. Deutsche Lufthansa AG Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr said earlier this year he doesn’t expect German domestic flying to ever recover to pre-pandemic levels due to weak corporate demand.
Traffic on domestic flights between German airports is at only half the levels seen before the pandemic, according to the country’s ADV airport association. Almost all airports have seen a substantial decline in inner-German traffic, with domestic take offs and landings at Frankfurt airport a third lower in the first eight months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2019.
Secondary German airports, including Frankfurt Hahn, Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden and Memmingen, have all but ceased domestic travel as low-cost carriers retreat from those services from the airports. Both Ryanair Holdings Plc and EasyJet Plc have retrenched considerably from Europe’s largest economy, lamenting high airport fees and what they say is a skewed competitive field that favors Lufthansa.
Even before the pandemic dislodged air travel, carriers were reducing domestic schedules in major European markets like Germany and France. Concerns about the industry’s carbon footprint had put the spotlight on corporate travel, and airline bailouts during the crisis allowed governments to impose permanent changes.
Domestic routes in Nordic markets like Norway, Finland and Sweden have also seen cutbacks tied to airline failures and consolidation, said John Grant, chief analyst at aviation consultancy OAG, which tracks airline trends. Also, as with Air France, domestic flying is often loss-making — and therefore not the best use of tight resources — especially in this post-Covid period when carriers still struggle with shortages of staff and aircraft.
“As always, there is no one reason for anything that happens” in aviation, Grant said. “A combination of events, changes in regulatory environments, resource allocation, et cetera, all have a part to play.”
Air France, which is part of the bigger Air France-KLM group, will continue to serve the Mediterranean island of Corsica, a popular beach destination that belongs to France, from Orly to honor public-service commitments. Charles de Gaulle airport, which is 25 kilometers (16 miles) north of Paris, welcomed 76.2 million passengers in 2019, according to ADP. That’s more than twice as many as Orly the same year.
–With assistance from William Wilkes.
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