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Air France-KLM CEO blasts main Paris airport over jet parking shortage



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By Tim Hepher

PARIS, June 19 (Reuters) -Air France-KLM's AIRF.PA CEO has urged Aeroports de Paris ADP.PA to improve the French capital's Charles de Gaulle airport, saying a shortage of jetways has created a daily struggle for aircraft parking spaces and higher operating costs.

Speaking to reporters to mark the Franco-Dutch airline group's 20th anniversary, Chief Executive Ben Smith said that in the morning peak dozens of planes are left without a jetway or "contact" gate, forcing passengers to use buses to reach the terminal.

"We have to have a negotiation every morning with ADP, depending on what the other airlines have, to try to find parking positions for our fleet," Smith said.

ADP did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2021, President Emmanuel Macron's government asked state-controlled ADP to come up with new proposals after ditching plans for an all-new terminal at CDG.

Smith has no regrets over the government's decision to axe Terminal 4, citing a costly 15-year transition and the lack of a direct link to a proposed new rail line to the capital.

Instead, he urged more investment in existing facilities.

"We're not talking about new capacity. We're talking about improving what's already there. It's really important for us."

Other group executives said discussions have begun with ADP over potential changes.

Smith reeled off a list of other perceived faults including the long distance to maintenance hangars, tying up planes for hours in extra towing times. He also bemoaned a lack of border control staff and "baggage systems that are old".

The spat comes as ADP and Air France prepare to handle tens of thousands of visitors for the Olympics. Both say they are fully prepared and cooperating well with each other.

"The infrastructure is ready, the staff have been recruited and processes have been defined," ADP's deputy CEO Edward Arkwright told the Paris Air Forum last week.


'NOT IDEAL'

Smith's comments in part reflect fierce competition between hubs in Paris, London, Frankfurt, Istanbul and the Gulf. He demonstrated on Google Maps how some airport maintenance facilities are closer to the terminals, avoiding CDG's long towing times for regular maintenance checks.

French network Air France operates a hub at CDG's Terminal 2 and makes up 55% of ADP's traffic. A company-commissioned study said on Wednesday that it contributes 3.2% of regional GDP.

Pioneered by U.S. parcel group FedEx FDX.N in the 1970s, hubs let airlines offer more connections, which draw in more traffic. To prosper, they depend on streamlined connections.

Officially opened in 1982 by President Francois Mitterand just as the U.S. hubbing revolution was about to reach Europe, Terminal 2's compact halls were designed to serve a previous agenda: shortening the time from gate to kerb.

"It is not the ideal layout; it is quite difficult to operate" Air France CEO Anne Rigail said.

During the pandemic, the area fell mostly silent. With traffic back to normal, Air France is having to park 10% of medium-haul flights and 5% of long-haul ones on remote stands, a company spokesperson said.

For passengers that means a bus ride and extra transit time. For the airline it means a less efficient use of the hub. Air France declined to put a figure on the impact on its operating margin, which stood at minus 6.2% in the first quarter.

Charles de Gaulle - which turned 50 this year - is the EU's largest airport with 67 million passengers in 2023.

For 2024-25, regulators approved a 4.5% average increase in the fees airlines pay for using the airport coupled with a 3% cut in the fees for using remote aircraft-parking areas.

ADP has said 2023-25 investment plans include a renovation of baggage sorting, more connections and lower taxiing times.



Reporting by Tim Hepher. Editing by Jane Merriman

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