Air France-KLM Fleet Overhaul Responds To Post-Crisis Thrift

Returning to profitability, the world's largest airline group will reduce first-class seating as travel consumers look to trim costs

By Bruno Trevidic

SEATTLE – With Air France-KLM expecting a return to profitability in 2011-2012, the company has begun to revamp its long-haul fleet to reflect a new post-crisis, penny-pinching economic reality.

Chief Commercial Officer Bruno Matheu laid out the vision for the overhaul of the fleet during the delivery in Seattle of a new Boeing 777-300ER, the 56th of its kind acquired by Air France. The new "triple-seven" aircraft's arrival Thursday at Paris's Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport signals a shift in the travel industry following the global economic crisis of the past two years, as consumers continue to demand lower prices.

The aircraft, which is the first to be equipped with a new model for business class seats and video-on-demand systems, is also the first B777-300 to come with a new three-class configuration: the 383 passenger seats are partitioned between Business Class (42 seats), the new Premium Traveller intermediate class (24 seats) and Economy Class (317 seats). The new configuration marks a shift in emphasis away from high-income clients, as Air France's existing B777 fleet includes eight seats in First Class, 67 in Business and 28 seats for Premium Business travellers, with only 200 seats remaining in Economy.

The new configuration will also be built into three additional B777s to be added to the fleet by the end of next summer, reflecting the company's overall strategy to meet the needs of more cost-conscious travellers. "The crisis has accelerated a change in behaviour of our customers who increasingly choose lower prices over better schedules or convenience," says Bruno Matheu.

While overall traffic has returned to the pre-crisis level, Matheu says ‘high income" travel is down by about 10%. Christian Herzog, Air France's marketing director, points out that the lion's share of higher priced tickets are bought by business travels, who are proportionally travelling less often than before. "When you look over time, trips of a personal nature are increasing the most," Herzog said.

Beyond the new fleet of B777s, ten B777-200s will also be redesigned by next summer based on the new model -- minus the first class, with the Premium class to be extended to the entire long-haul fleet, including the A380s. Progressively, the new models of seats will be installed on fifteen Airbus A330s and A340s, as well as on the latest Boeing 747, which will also feature additional seats in economy class.

By no means is First Class being abandoned. "Even if our latest 777s don't have as many high-end seats, our First Class offer will actually grow by 30% by 2013," says Bruno Matheu. The number of destinations on which Air France offers First Class should also remain stable. "The market is highly concentrated on a few flights, for which there is a real demand," he says.

At the same time, Air France has postponed the replacement of older aircrafts. The seven remaining B747-400s will continue to operate for four more years in order to maintain the company's cash flow. To this end, the 777 delivered yesterday -- along with future deliveries of the same aircraft -- will immediately be sold off to leasing companies, while remaining available for hire as part of the fleet. Meanwhile, no new dates have been announced for the prospective order of new A350s or B787s -- two programs that continue to experience delays.

Read the original story in French

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!