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Air France (Airline, France)

Last modified: 2011-11-11 by ivan sache
Keywords: air france | union aeromaritime de transport | uat | stars: 5 (red) | letter: u (white) | letter: a (blue) | letter: t (white) | letters: af (white) | seahorse: winged |
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Presentation of Air France

The first French airline company was Compagnie Générale Transaérienne, founded in 1909 and operating dirigibles and hydroplanes (hydroaéroplanes, renamed hydravions when avion replaced aéroplane). The first true airline companies were indeed formed short after the First World War by aircraft manufacturers associated with bankers. Pierre-Georges Latécoère founded in 1918 Lignes Latécoère. The next year were founded Aéronavale, Messageries Aériennes, Grands Express Aériens, Messageries Transaériennes and Lignes Farman, followed in 1920 by Compagnie de Navigation Franco-Roumaine. These lines were originally opened for the transportation of mail overseas, to South America (the Santiago line popularized by the pilots Didier Daurat, Jean Mermoz, Henri Guillaumet and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), Asia (Maurice Noguès) and Africa (Jean Dagnaux). Passenger traffic developed slowly (6,786 passengers in 1922); from 1922 to 1923, however, the network served by the French companies increased fivefold.
After the 1930 economical crisis, Ministry of Air Pierre Cot decided to restructure the air transportation: in 1933, the companies Air Orient, Air Union, Société Générale de Transport Aérien (ex Lignes Farman) and CIDNA (ex Franco-Roumaine) merged into Société Centrale pour l'Exploitation des Lignes Aériennes (SCELA). On 30 August 1933, SCELA purchased the bankrupted Aéropostale and was renamed Air France. The new company was officially inaugurated at the airport of Le Bourget on 7 October 1933. It then operated 259 aircrafts of 31 different types; the fleet was reorganized and modernized with French planes, such as the modern Dewoitine 338. In 1938, Air France operated 100 planes, had the fourth biggest network in the world and transported more than 100,000 passengers per year. There were then four French carriers: Air France (including Air France Transatlantique), Aéromaritime, Air Afrique, and Air Bleu (dedicated to the postal service). Air France decreased its operations during the Second Word War and Lignes Aériennes Militaires were created in Damas in 1941.

On 26 June 1945, the French civil aviation was nationalized and the former private company Air France became property of the state. By the Decree of 29 December 1945, Air France was granted the management of the French civil air network. France joined the International Civil Aviation Organization (OACI) and he International Air Transport Association (IATA), founded in 1945. The French government authorized the foundation of two new companies, Transports Aériens Internationaux (TAI) in 1946 and SATI in 1948, renamed Union Aéromaritime de Transport (UAT) in 1949.
The first flight attendants were appointed in 1946; the air terminal of Paris-Invalides, linked to the airport of Le Bourget by coaches, was opened the same year. The Paris-New York line (a 19h50 flight on a DC4) was inaugurated on 1 July 1946. The Air France network covered then 160,000 km, being "the longest in the world". In 1948, Air France, operating then 130 planes, became Compagnie Nationale Air France, a semi-public company (société d'économie mixte) ruled by the Code of the Civil Aviation. The passenger number then increased by 14% each year. In 1952, the airport of Orly-Sud replaced Le Bourget, deemed too small, and the network extended to 250,000 km. The fleet was modernized with the purchase of the (then) huge Bréguet Deux-Ponts and Lockheed Super Constellation. Champagne and warm meals were provided on board in September 1949.
The domestic company Air Inter was founded on 12 November 1954, with Air France and the national railway company SNCF as its main shareholders (24% each). Its first flight was made on 16 March 1958 between Paris and Strasbourg but regular commercial flights started only in 1960. From 1948 to 1961, Air France was presided by Max Hymans, who is to be credited of the recovery of the company after the Second World War.

In the 1960s, Air France was one of the first companies to operate jets, using "the two best jets on the biggest network in the world", that is the Caravelle and the Boeing 707. The flight durations were divided by two and the comfort on board was dramatically increased. On 1 February 1963, the French state granted the lines to West (except Dakar), Center and South Africa, to the Pacific and to the West Coast of the USA to the private company UTA, which resulted of the merging of UAT and TAI.
In the late 1960s, Air France purchased bigger planes (Boeing 727 and 747). The Orly-Ouest airport, dedicated to domestic flights, was opened in 1971. The company was hit by the oil crises in 1973 and 1979. In 1974, Air France and UTA settled the new airport of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle; Air France launched the European medium-haul aircraft Airbus A300. On 21 January 1976, the inaugural flight of the Franco-British Concorde was made on the Paris-Rio de Janeiro line. In 1983, Air France employed 34,600, operated 99 planes and served 150 places in 73 countries, forming a network of 634,400 km; it was the fourth company in the world for passenger transport and the second for freight. The Airbus A320 was launched by Air France and Air Inter in 1988.
Deregulation of the European transport market started on 1 January 1988 and competition became the rule. On 12 January 1990, Air France, Air Inter and UTA were merged into Groupe Air France. Air France definitively took over UTA in 1992, whereas Air Inter disappeared on 1 April 1997. Compagnie Nationale Air France was renamed Société Air France on 3 June 1998 and its shares were listed on the Paris stock market on 22 February 1999.
In June 1999, Air France and Delta Airlines set up the basis of a partnership, which was transformed on 22 June 2000 into the SkyTeam Alliance, today including Aeromexico, Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Continental Airlines, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta, Korean Air and NWA. Privatization of Air France started in summer 2003; as far as I understand, a complete merging with KLM is in process.

Source: Air France Museum website

Ivan Sache, 17 April 2006


Fanions (desk flags) of Air France

The Art-Aviation website shows three small flags of Air France.

[Flag of Air France]

Desk flag of Air France - Image by António Martins, 12 April 2006

The flag shows a large white hexagon overall, slightly irregular but vertically symmetrical, dividing a dark blue area at the hoist and a red area at the fly. In the center is placed the winged seahorse logotype of Air France in dark blue, facing the fly, with lettering "AIR FRANCE" set in dark blue bold sans-serif capitals (but not the Air France corporate identity typeface) arched below.
Filenames and sort order used in the website suggest that this is the oldest of the displayed Air France flags.

[Flag of Air France]

Desk flag of Air France - Image by António Martins, 12 April 2006

The flag shows a large white hexagon overall, slightly irregular but vertically symmetrical (and narrower than the first one, q.v.), dividing a dark blue area at the hoist and a red area at the fly. On the center, the lettering "AIR FRANCE" is set in the dark blue bold sans-serif capitals of the Air France corporate identity typeface on a white rectangular panel that overlaps the hexagon; on top hoist the winged seahorse logotype of Air France in golden yellow, facing the fly, surrounded by a golden yellow ring.
Filenames and sort order used in the website suggest that this is the most recent of the displayed Air France flags.

[Flag of Air France]

Possible desk flag of Air France - Image by António Martins, 12 April 2006

This design is shown not as a desktop flaglet but as an artistical rendering of a flag flying, and might therefore never have existed as a real flag. This flag is also shown on a luggage label and on the cover of a company timetable for summer 1935. The flag shows a large white hexagon overall, slightly irregular but vertically symmetrical (and narrower than the first one, q.v.), dividing a dark blue area at the hoist and a red area at the fly. On the center, the winged seahorse logotype of Air France in dark blue, facing the hoist, surrounded by a dark blue ring; on the dark blue area, the lettering "A" above "F" set in white sans serif capitals (not the Air France corporate identity typeface).

I suggest that the white hexagon in Air France flags refers to France itself, based on the well-known geographic metaphor.

António Martins, 12 April 2006

These are called in French fanions; they are small desk flags, either used on the company counters in the airport and elswhere or given to customers as collectibles.
The emblem of Air France is known as hippocampe ailé, that is the winged seahorse. When Air France was formed in 1933 by the merging of several companies, it settled in the grounds of Air Orient in Paris and took its emblem, the winged seahorse.
The well-known metaphor making of France l'hexagone was coined by (then) Colonel de Gaulle in 1934, according to Grand Robert de la Langue Française.

Today, Air France has kept the corporate identity typeface shown on the second flag but has changed his logotype, as can be seen on the tale of the planes. The winged seahorse is still there on the fuselage of the planes.

Ivan Sache, 10 April 2006


Union Aéromaritime de Transport (UAT)

The French government authorized the foundation of two new companies, Transports Aériens Internationaux (TAI) in 1946 and SATI in 1948, renamed Union Aéromaritime de Transport (UAT) in 1949.
On 1 February 1963, the French state granted the lines to West (except Dakar), Center and South Africa, to the Pacific and to the West Coast of the USA to the private company UTA, which resulted of the merging of UAT and TAI.

Source: Air France Museum website

Ivan Sache, 17 April 2006

[Flag of UAT]

Desk flag of UAT - Image by I>António Martins, 12 April 2006

The Art-Aviation website shows a desk flag of UAT as a descending diagonal tricolor blue-white-red with squarish letters made from 4 x 3 square blocks "centered" on each area: a white "U" on blue, a blue "A" on white, and a white "T" on red; the letter "A" is surrounded by a ring of five small five-pointed red stars, the upper one placed centrally.
This design is clearly inspired by the French national flag: it is not a diagonal design, such as the flag of Tanzania with a narrow middle stripe but a "tilted tricolor" with a large central area. The shade of blue is distinctly brighter than on the Air France flags shown above.

António Martins, 12 April 2006