Air France to debut new terminal


NEW YORK -- With a new state-of-the-art terminal set to open at its Paris hub this summer, Air France is busy pursuing its goal of becoming the premier leisure and business carrier from the U.S. to destinations in France as well as other popular European markets farther afield.

Quicker connections and better service at Charles de Gaulle Airport's new Terminal E -- where 80% of flights will dock at jetways -- coupled with the new business and first-class cabins and Boeing 777-300 widebody jets to debut in April 2004, should help the carrier capture ever more transatlantic market share, said Christopher Korenke, the carrier's vice president and general manager for the U.S.

"Our room to grow is not only France -- although we're proud of our [national] origins and [French] service standards -- but growth can occur only in the way we wish by focusing also on destinations beyond," he said, noting that 55% of the airline's global passenger revenue is generated by markets outside France.

"It's a huge success story that only has become possible thanks to the Paris hub," he said.

Connecting service to Italy already accounts for 10% of Air France's bookings out of the U.S.; after Terminal E opens for business on June 17, the airline will begin parking flights from New York, Rome and Milan, Italy, closer together to ease passenger connections.

In time, all flights from the U.S. to Charles de Gaulle will arrive at Terminal E.

"We'll have a terminal with better, wider spaces and more arrivals lounges along with the huge enhancement of our connecting facilities," said Korenke.

"What's planned in two to three years' time is leaving terminals A and B altogether and concentrating operations in terminals E and F."

Other growth markets for Air France include flights via Paris to Belgium, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Korenke said he is in constant negotiations with tourism boards, chambers of commerce and tour operators to craft new products to those markets for U.S. travelers.

"Getting a foot in the door with tour operators is a nice way to double up traffic," he said. "This year, you will see new programs from us to non-French destinations, or products that combine France and other destinations."

The carrier is well-placed to serve U.S. travelers to several western European countries, with more than 10 flights a day to Rome and several daily to Florence, Naples and Venice in Italy; 10 flights daily to Madrid, nine to Barcelona and three to Valencia in Spain; and 11 each day to Geneva.

"All these highways are generating huge amounts of traffic for us," said Korenke.

"And because we're relying on international markets [in addition to] the French one, we've a kind of commitment to enhance service via a number of very heavy investments," he added -- hence the terminal, cabin and aircraft upgrades.

The new emphasis on multiple markets also will shield Air France from dips in the fortunes of any given destination.

Given the situation in Iraq and political tensions between the U.S. and some European countries, some transatlantic routes -- such as those to France -- could be negatively affected.

"We have to be a global player and a player in all European markets in order to compensate if one destination is lacking in traffic," said Korenke.

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