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Can Air France survive its current financial troubles?

Konstantin Sheiko
May 14, 2018

The 21st century’s bankruptcy chain reaction of European based air carriers continues to threaten some of its major remaining players. Swissair had gone bust in 2002, as had Belgium’s flag carrier, Sabena, in 2001. Today, the cemetery of former flag carriers is much more impressive, including Cyprus Airways, Malev (Hungary), flyLAL (Lithuania) and Slovak Airlines, just to name a few. 

Alitalia, the Italian flag carrier and papal airline, went bankrupt last year. Rumours are, the same fate might be awaiting the once proud French flag carrier, Air France. Today it has become crystal clear that a rich contextual history is not enough to keep an airline in the air. At one point France’s national airline embodied national identity and carried as many passengers as it did sovereign pride. 

However, today it is teetering on the brink of financial collapse. In the wake of the resignation of Jean-Marc Janaillac, chief executive of Air France-KLM - the airline merged with the Dutch carrier in 2004, after he failed to quell strike action, Bruno Le Maire, the French economic minister, warned that Air France, owned in part by the state, would not be bailed out. “Air France will disappear if it does not make the necessary efforts to be competitive,” he said. 

The Paris-based airline was founded in 1933. It was one of only three Allied carriers that flew to West Berlin during the Cold War, while its involvement in the running of the supersonic Concorde will forever be a part of aviation history. In 2004, Air France was the largest European airline, with a 25.5 per cent market share. 

Then came the budget boom, drastically altering the face of European air market in its wake. It remains to be seen whether Air France will come to grips with the current crisis, or disappear in the annals of history as so many European air carriers have done beefre.