An Italian proverb says that "one who marries once deserves a Crown of patience, and the one who married twice a straitjacket of force". What happens then if Air France after so many years to pass the ring finger of Alitalia, its turbulent transalpine cousin Four years after its spectacular alliance with the Dutch KLM, Air France seems in any case to redeem the Italian national company.
But the victory is not acquired. Policies and trade unions are currently headwind against a solution that will inevitably result in repatriation of number of flights from Milan to Rome and probably thousands of deletions of posts. Or Jean - Cyril Spinetta, CEO of Air France-KLM, warned: it will not go without an agreement of trade unions. It will therefore take this week its stick of Pilgrim to try to convince the many holdouts, political and trade unionists.
Thus will the strategy of Air France and its competitors, made as much diplomatic as switching industrial considerations. As an airline is still regarded as an attribute of sovereignty by most countries. Only Europe completely opened as early as 1993, the air transport market. An airline can open lines International (within EU) without any need to go through a bilateral negotiation State to State on traffic rights, as is the case everywhere elsewhere, and even to operate domestic flights in a country other than his own. A major step will be taken with the entry into force next April "open skies" agreement between the United States and Europe. Then Air France may operate flights to New York or Chicago from London or Frankfurt. Result, European national airlines, already devastated by the onslaught of the "low cost", lose the one after the other small monopolies that were their livelihood.
With these changes, the French company was among the first to make the bet that the European landscape going to redial three large groups, British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France, each structured around a central airport platform, the "hub". The challenge is to provide the greatest possible choice of destinations to attract enough professional customer, priority segment as the most cost-effective, while streamlining the long-haul traffic.
The air is difficult. It loses generally much more money you win. Activity is extremely cyclical (conditions), very capital-intensive (the fleet), with operating costs high (fuel) and low profitability: rarely more than 6 of operating margin very good years. Not to mention the complexity of the social dialogue, which regularly leads to devastating strikes.
A company like Air France constraints are thus three levels: policy, with the management of the national susceptibilities, economic with the power to issue competition of liberalization and industrial rise with a constant obsession of management costs and extremely variable income one and other, all in a more peaceful social context as possible.
The management of the susceptibilities forced preferred a cautious approach to growth. Here no hostile OPA or merge to roughly. Marriage is preferred alliances. But the economic and industrial constraints grow in contrast to maximum integration. Therefore Air France has built its network of relations in three circles. Friends remote to go further and coordinate its activities, it is for the SkyTeam alliance that all collectors of miles. Then comes the circle of close friends, those with which you can create a joint company, place complete lines and to distribute the costs and revenues. This is what comes to the American Delta Air France-KLM. Term, most transatlantic lines will be so common, generating almost 5 billion euros of revenues. This approach might be appropriate for a future development in Asia for example. The first circle, finally, is that of marriage. Air France was the first to experience it in Europe in convolant with KLM. Lufthansa made with Swiss. But not question of upheaval teams, plans in one hundred days and other delights of consultants. We are not at Arcelor. KLM remained a full company, management has not budged and Amsterdam airport remains the major "hub" that he was. In fact the integration is progressing all the same, but quietly. A common Executive Committee chaired by Jean-Cyril Spinetta meets every fifteen days and examines different synergies sites presented by "pairs" of managers of the two entities. More and more functions are pooled: marketing, purchasing, finance...
A gentle method by the culture of compromise to the Dutch and which, at this time, wonders. Synergies are constantly reviewed to increase and in three years the Group has increased its sales by 30 and its operating income has increased by more than three. But a total fusion, men and the mark, is not always the order of the day. Not because that the Dutch State continues to negotiate traffic rights around the world for her national company. Will be the same for Alitalia The situation is different, given the catastrophic state of the Italian company: recurrent losses, fleet renewal, unmotivated staff. The treatment will be probably more radical and the stronger influence of French. But control of the fourth market in Europe is a wonderful opportunity of development of a genuine pan-European operator, with a single network and three doors of entry, Amsterdam, Paris and Rome, ideally distributed geographically. The image of what is the world the Australian Qantas, which gradually becomes a real company Pan covering the entire continent. It is the key to the empowerment of its domestic market, and thus of the future.
Such opportunities, risks are equally important. Risk of running first with political and social constraints strong. Seen in Italy, has been seen recently in France with the conflict of the hostesses of the air. Risk conditions also. Air transport is sensitive to economic swings since it is worn by the customer business. Air France-KLM is less exposed to the American turbulence as British Airways, but it would still suffer. Not to mention the increase in oil and the future environmental constraints that should increase the invoice. Goldman Sachs analysts believe that companies have eaten their white bread and that time could spoil from 2009. Not to mention the offensive of companies in emerging countries such as China or those of the rich Gulf Emirates. Another reason to not drag in its international ambitions, as long as the sky is still blue.