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Air France to offer Singapore-Jakarta
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From next March, Air France will extend its daily Paris-Singapore flight onwards to Jakarta, as the carrier grows its Asian presence to mitigate the slowdown in its own backyard.

If demand for the one-stop service is strong, the carrier will consider a second daily flight, said Matthieu Tetaud, who moved here recently to assume his new role as commercial director for several Asian markets.

The planned Singapore-Jakarta leg comes after Air France cut capacity on its Paris-Singapore sector earlier this year by replacing the Airbus 380 superjumbo with the Boeing 777 aircraft which has about 200 fewer seats.

Tetaud told The Straits Times on Friday: "We had no trouble filling up the aircraft, but there was a greater need for the A380 in Shanghai."

On flying to Jakarta from Singapore, he said: "As an airline, we would like to fly direct to all destinations but to do that, you need enough demand. When there isn't, you look for a hub. The good thing about Changi is that when you land an aircraft here, you have many options for connections."

This not only benefits Air France customers wishing to access other Asian cities, but also provides the airline with feed traffic for its own onward flights.

For example, up to 40 per cent of travellers on the Singapore- Bali leg of KLM's flight from Amsterdam board the aircraft from Changi Airport, Tetaud said.

Air France and KLM merged about a decade ago, although the two carriers have maintained their separate brands.

By the second half of next year, the Paris-based airline will operate to 23 Asian destinations.

The shift towards Asia comes even as the head office announced on Wednesday plans to cut more than 1,800 jobs in France.

The latest cuts aim to put the airline back in the black after a string of losses since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Other European carriers are also growing their Asian footprint.

Changi is served by seven European carriers that operate a total of more than 110 weekly flights, offering 18,000 one-way seats, said airport spokesman Robin Goh.

Europe is an "important" market, he added.

Since 2007, passenger traffic between Singapore and the region has grown by an average of about 4 per cent a year, he said.

In the year to the end of July, total traffic hit about 2.6 million.

Goh said: "Air France's announcement to extend its operations from Singapore to Jakarta is a strong testament to Changi Airport being the preferred transit hub for European carriers to serve destinations in the region."

Air France knows though that to compete with Asian and Middle Eastern carriers, it must up its value proposition, Tetaud said.

"It's the small things that matter to Asian travellers, like calling a customer by his name and showing him his seat. This is where we need to improve and we are."

The airline, which recently unveiled new seats and other aircraft cabin products, has also rolled out customer service training for about 1,900 cabin crew and ground staff.

Tetaud said: "Yes, we have lost ground in the last few years to Asian and Middle Eastern carriers, but we are determined not just to catch up but to be better."

He said: "When our CEO speaks of service and products, who does he refer to a lot? It's Singapore Airlines and that's where we want to be."

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