French Bee

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French Bee
French bee logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
BF FBU FRENCH BEE
FoundedMarch 2016 (as French Blue)
January 2018 (as French Bee)
Commenced operations10 September 2016
Operating basesParis–Orly
Fleet size4
Destinations3
Parent companyGroupe Dubreuil
HeadquartersBellevigny, France
Key peopleMarc Rochet (President and CEO)
Websitefrenchbee.com

French Bee SAS, styled as French bee, and formerly named French Blue, is a French low-cost, long-haul airline based at Paris Orly Airport. It operates a scheduled network between France and worldwide leisure destinations with a fleet of Airbus A350 aircraft. Its head office is in parent company Groupe Dubreuil's offices in the Belleville-sur-Vie area of Bellevigny, Vendée, France.[1][2]

History[edit]

Formation and startup (2014–2017)[edit]

F-HPUJ, the airline's first Airbus A330-300, in the 2016–18 branding as French Blue.

In 2014, Marc Rochet (an airline executive at French Caribbean airline Air Caraïbes, with prior executive experience at airlines including AOM and L'Avion) and Jean-Paul Dubreuil (chairman of Groupe Dubreuil, the holding and parent company of Air Caraïbes) discussed ways to expand Groupe Dubreil's aviation businesses.[3] A possibility included the buyout of Corsair International from TUI Group, however when the buyout fell through in March 2015,[4] a decision was made to instead form an entirely new French airline.[3] In June 2015, Groupe Dubreuil announced the launch of a project under the codename "Sunline", involving the creation of a new low-cost, long-haul airline to be based in France.[5][6][7] The airline was publicly unveiled in March 2016, under the name "French Blue". Plans for the airline's first two years were to launch flights from Paris to Punta Cana in September 2016, flights to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius in summer 2017, and to operate a fleet of two Airbus A330-300 and two Airbus A350-900 aircraft by March 2018.[8][9] The airline also planned to hire 400 employees within two years.[10]

After receiving its first Airbus A330-300, the airline operated some long-haul flights on behalf of Air Caraïbes from 1 July 2016,[11][12] before the airline's first flight from Paris Orly to Punta Cana International Airport on 10 September 2016.[13][14] In October 2016, the airline announced its next destination from Paris Orly with flights to Roland Garros Airport on Réunion island, beginning on 16 June 2017.[15] In August 2017, the airline received its first Airbus A350-900,[16] and was also considering Mauritius and Seychelles as new destinations for 2018.[17] By November 2017 however, the airline ultimately chose Papeete and San Francisco as its next destinations, with plans to begin serving them on 11 May 2018.[18]

Rebranding and expansion (2017–2020)[edit]

The same aircraft pictured above, following the airline's 2018 rebranding as French Bee. This aircraft was transferred to sister airline Air Caraïbes in 2019.

In November 2017, while the airline as "French Blue" was applying with the United States Department of Transportation for a foreign air carrier permit to begin service to the country, US-based JetBlue Airways raised objections to another airline serving the country bearing the word "Blue" in its name. In response, the airline was temporarily renamed to simply "French", before the airline announced on 30 January 2018 that it was rebranding as "French Bee".[19][20] In February 2018, after receiving regulatory approval to begin operations to the US, the airline formally announced the opening of reservations for flights between Paris Orly and Faa'a International Airport (Papeete) in French Polynesia, with flights stopping at San Francisco International Airport each way, and launching on 11 May 2018 as previously planned.[21] The services included international traffic rights for passengers to travel solely to or from San Francisco in addition to transiting between Paris and Papeete.[21]

In June 2018, parent company Groupe Dubreil announced the addition of a third Airbus A350-900 to French Bee's fleet, to be delivered in June 2019, and that the airline's Airbus A330-300 would be reconfigured and transferred to Air Caraïbes upon the A350's delivery.[22][23] Following this, the airline's fleet consisted entirely of Airbus A350 aircraft.[24] Also during June 2019, Groupe Dubreuil allocated a fourth A350-900 to the airline for delivery during 2020,[25] and with this expansion to its fleet, the airline in September 2019 announced its second destination in the US with flights to Newark Liberty International Airport, to begin on 10 June 2020.[26] Groupe Dubreuil also announced that it had allocated deliveries for the larger A350-1000 variant to the airline, initially with one each in 2021 and 2022,[25][27] but later adjusted for both A350-1000s to be delivered in 2021.[28][29]

In January 2020, French Bee was granted traffic rights to operate services between Paris Orly and São Paulo, Brazil, following the redistribution of traffic rights previously held by Aigle Azur and XL Airways France, which had both gone defunct during September 2019.[30][31] The airline had not decided which São Paulo airport it would serve between either Guarulhos or Viracopos International Airport, though the airline proposed a June 2021 start date in its application for the traffic rights, with the possibility of an expedited start date during December 2020 by chartering an aircraft from Air Caraïbes.[31] In February 2020, the airline announced an interlining agreement with Alaska Airlines through Alaska's hub in San Francisco, and in anticipation of French Bee's planned services to Newark, a destination also served by Alaska.[32]

COVID-19 pandemic (2020–present)[edit]

F-HREY, the Airbus A350-900 that operated French Bee's nonstop flight from Papeete to Paris Orly in May 2020 as the world's longest domestic flight.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on aviation, which included the United States travel ban beginning in March 2020, French Bee temporarily suspended its operations to the US, intending to operate its flights to Faa'a International Airport by rerouting its intermediate stop from San Francisco International Airport to Pointe-à-Pitre International Airport, allowing for the route's stops between France and French Polynesia to occur within French domestic territories.[33] Shortly after, the airline instead suspended its commercial flights to French Polynesia after 15 March 2020, with the initial intention of resuming them on 10 April 2020.[34][35] As overseas borders between the airline's Paris Orly base and its destinations began to close, the remainder of the airline's commercial operations (which included its flights to Réunion) were suspended starting from 28 March 2020, with the suspensions expected to last for at least two months.[36][37] Four days later on 1 April 2020, Orly Airport closed to commercial passenger traffic.[38]

While French Bee's commercial passenger operations were suspended, the airline still operated some charter and cargo-only flights,[28] and while doing so claimed the record for the world's longest domestic flight, though the flight did not carry any passengers as Paris Orly remained closed to passenger traffic. After making a stopover in Pointe-à-Pitre on a flight from Paris Orly to Papeete carrying medical supplies to French Polynesia, the Airbus A350-900 operating the flight returned from Papeete to Paris Orly as a nonstop flight on 15 May 2020, traveling a great-circle distance of 15,728 kilometres (9,773 mi), with the airline claiming it traveled a ground distance of 16,129 kilometres (10,022 mi).[39] The distance of the flight surpassed the record of Air Tahiti Nui, which initially took the record for its flight from Papeete to Paris Charles de Gaulle earlier that March, with Air Tahiti Nui's Boeing 787-9 traveling a great-circle distance of 15,715 kilometres (9,765 mi).[40]

As Orly Airport was still closed to commercial passenger traffic since 1 April 2020, French Bee's Paris-based operations were temporarily relocated to Charles de Gaulle Airport when the airline's passenger flights to Réunion resumed on 12 June 2020.[41][42] Following Paris Orly's reopening to commercial passenger traffic on 26 June 2020, the airline's operations returned to Paris Orly on 13 July 2020, with the resumption of its commercial flights to French Polynesia following on 15 July 2020.[43][42][35] As international borders between Europe and the United States remained closed, the airline's planned flights to Newark Liberty International Airport that were to begin in June 2020 were repeatedly postponed.[44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53] Additionally, French Bee continued operating its flights to French Polynesia with the intermediate stop occurring interchangeably between Pointe-à-Pitre and Vancouver instead of in San Francisco, though the airline did not pursue international traffic rights to allow passengers to travel solely to or from Vancouver.[54][55]

Destinations[edit]

French Bee operates, or has previously operated scheduled flights to the following destinations as of May 2021:[56]

Country or Territory City Airport Notes Ref.
Dominican Republic Punta Cana Punta Cana International Airport Terminated [13]
France Paris Orly Airport Base
French Polynesia Papeete Faa'a International Airport [18][21]
Réunion Saint-Denis Roland Garros Airport [15]
United States Newark Newark Liberty International Airport Begins 25 June 2021 [26][53]
San Francisco San Francisco International Airport Suspended
Resumes 21 June 2021
[18][21]

Interline agreements[edit]

French Bee has an interlining agreement with Alaska Airlines.[32]

Codeshare agreements[edit]

French Bee has codeshare agreements with sister airline Air Caraïbes as well as the SNCF, the French national railway operator.[57][58]

Fleet[edit]

Current fleet[edit]

A French Bee Airbus A350-900.

As of August 2020, the French Bee fleet consists of the following aircraft:[59][60]

French Bee fleet
Aircraft In
service
Orders Passengers Notes
C Y Total
Airbus A350-900 4 35 376 411
Airbus A350-1000 2 40 448 488 Deliveries in 2021.[28][29]
Total 4 2

Historical fleet[edit]

French Bee previously operated the following aircraft:

French Bee former fleet
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired Notes
Airbus A330-300 1 2016 2019 Transferred to Air Caraïbes.[24][61]

Cabins and services[edit]

Service[edit]

French Bee offers three booking classes, consisting of Basic, Smart, and Premium, for its two cabin classes of service, consisting of Premium Blue (the airline's premium economy class) and Eco Blue (the airline's economy class). The Basic and Smart booking classes apply to economy class, while the Premium booking class applies to premium economy.[62] As a low-cost airline, French Bee in most cases charges additional fees for services and amenities offered, such as for seat selection, through buy on board services for catering and comfort kits, as well as for airport services including lounge access and expedited security queues.[63] The Smart and Premium booking classes however include some services and amenities, such as complimentary meals and checked/hold baggage.[62] The airline also provides catalogues in French and English for in-flight catering and duty-free shopping.[64]

In-flight entertainment[edit]

Seats in both the premium and economy cabins of French Bee's aircraft are equipped with an in-flight entertainment touchscreen system by Zodiac Aerospace. The system includes a selection of audio and video on demand (AVOD) consisting of movies, recorded television shows, podcasts, music, and video games. Content on the system is freely available to all passengers, regardless of cabin of service, and each screen is equipped with a USB power outlet.[65] The airline also offers in-flight Wi-Fi access at different service levels for an additional fee.[66]

Seating[edit]

Premium Blue is French Bee's premium economy product, with the cabin consisting of seats configured in a 2-3-2 layout. The seats offer 36 inches (91 cm) of pitch and measure 18 inches (46 cm) wide. Each seat is equipped with an adjustable leg, foot, and head rest as well as a power outlet.[67]

Eco Blue is French Bee's economy class product, with the cabin consisting of seats configured mostly in a 3-4-3 layout, with some rows toward the rear of the aircraft configured in a 3-3-3 layout. The seats offer 32 inches (81 cm) of pitch and measure 16 inches (41 cm) wide, while two power outlets are included with each set of three or four seats.[68]

Criticism[edit]

Air Caraïbes employee relations[edit]

The former French Bee Airbus A330-300 as seen in an interim livery during July 2019, following its transfer to Air Caraïbes.

During the airline's initial startup as French Blue in 2016, employee unions of sister airline Air Caraïbes (a full service airline) expressed concerns that French Blue's nature as a low-cost airline would be retroactively used to transfer the transatlantic operations of and impede Air Caraïbes' future growth.[9] The unions cited two Airbus A350-900s due in 2017, previously allocated by Groupe Dubreuil to Air Caraïbes that were instead allocated to French Blue, and demanded that the original plans of delivering the A350s to Air Caraïbes be maintained, or that for every aircraft added to the French Blue fleet, an aircraft would also be added to the Air Caraïbes fleet for the latter's fleet size to remain larger.[69] The unions also stressed that French Blue's operations should be kept separate from those of Air Caraïbes not only in the French Caribbean, but also for the future plans to serve Réunion island, which Groupe Dubreuil had previously announced as part of French Blue's plans for the summer of 2017.[69] Marc Rochet acknowledged Air Caraïbes' successful financial results as a full-service airline and reassured that growth and the use of resources for both Air Caraïbes and French Blue would be possible, noting that French Blue's operations would not interfere with the French Caribbean operations of Air Caraïbes in limiting French Blue's Caribbean presence to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.[9][3]

French Blue's sole Airbus A330-300 was ultimately chartered by Air Caraïbes for some of its flights to the Caribbean even through French Blue's official launch to Punta Cana in September 2016,[70] though French Blue also went ahead with its plans to launch its own flights to Réunion island in June 2017.[15] In subsequent years, both the A330 as well as the Punta Cana route were transferred back to Air Caraïbes, while Air Caraïbes received its share of A350 deliveries and renewed part of its Airbus widebody fleet.[22] In addition, the overall fleet size of Air Caraïbes remained higher than that of its sister airline.[22]

Unsustainable tourism growth in French Polynesia[edit]

French Blue's intention in 2017 to launch flights from Paris Orly to Papeete via San Francisco in May 2018 was opposed by the Tahoera'a Huiraatira party in the French Polynesian government, although the government also approved the airline's application to start service.[71] Gaston Flosse, the party's leader, argued that the high-cost environment of French Polynesia would be unsuitable for the influx of budget travelers that French Blue would transport to the islands, and that effects from the low-cost airline's new services would be detrimental to the local population.[71][18] A drop in the market shares of Air France and Air Tahiti Nui, which were already operating services between France and French Polynesia via the United States, was also expected due to the added competition and reduced fares that the airline would introduce to the route. Air Tahiti Nui in particular expressed skepticism toward the long-term sustainability of French Blue's low-cost and long-haul business model, claiming that the concept had not yet proven its success.[72] The airline's initial effects on traffic to French Polynesia were reflected in passenger traffic statistics for June 2018, where after the airline (by then having rebranded as French Bee) launched its Papeete services during the previous month, French Bee attained 10% of the market share for all traffic through Faa'a International Airport, while Air France's share fell by 11.1% and Air Tahiti Nui's fell by 3.6% compared to June 2017.[73] By the end of 2018, French Bee claimed to have attained 35% of the total market share between Paris and Papeete, compared to Air Tahiti Nui's 36% and Air France's 29%, and a 16% market share between the United States and Papeete, compared to Air Tahiti Nui's 52% and Air France's 12%.[27]

Observers additionally felt that the infrastructure for tourism on the islands, including hotel vacancy or capacity on domestic inter-island services, would be unable to support the increase in visitors. While inbound tourism increased by 10.1% in June 2018 compared to June 2017 (particularly from Europe and the United States as a result of French Bee's new services), the demand for hotel capacity dropped by 2.5% compared to June 2017, with independent renters being projected to have absorbed or hosted additional capacity.[74] In contrast to the increased tourist volume from Europe and the United States, tourism from Japan, Australia, and New Zealand dropped during the same period.[74] After French Bee, United Airlines in December 2017 also announced the launch of its own services to Papeete from San Francisco for October 2018; and as United was also serving Paris Charles de Gaulle from San Francisco, it further increased competition and contributed additional capacity from the United States and Europe to the islands.[75] While United's total market share between Paris and Papeete was not specified, French Bee claimed that United attained 20% of the total market share between the US and Papeete by the end of 2018, although these figures did not include Hawaiian Airlines, a US-based carrier that also operated Papeete services during the same period.[27]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Media related to French Bee at Wikimedia Commons