The French carrier, part of Air France-KLM, is planning to increase capacity by mid-June from 3-5 per cent today to about 10 per cent of normal levels, said Jean Fernandez, executive vice president of flight operations, Friday.
Airlines are facing a new challenge as they are making tentative plans to resume services: finding simulator time to maintain their skills and qualifications for thousands of pilots. On Thursday, Germany's Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) outlined its own plans for a return to dozens of destinations next month.
European safety rules require additional training for any pilot who has not completed at least three take-offs and landings in the last three months, and at five take-offs and landings, Air France sets its own bar higher.
"Pilots need to fly regularly to keep their skills at the highest level," Fernandez said at an Air France facility near Charles de Gaulle airport during a training session.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said airlines with more limited training and simulator resources that may struggle to meet the three-month rule can benefit from "temporary, case-by - case alleviations."
On Friday, 25-year Air France veteran Captain Emmanuel Mistrali and his co-pilot were running through challenging scenarios from engine failure to high winds in the Airbus (AIR.PA) A350 simulator, closely watched by a flight instructor.
Mistrali, out of action since his last flight to Sao Paolo three weeks ago, said that the simulator sessions offer a welcome opportunity to "recover contact with a world that we have missed."
Air France said that some 2,000-2,500 of its 4,000 pilots are likely to fly in May-June, with the drastically lower flight schedule being evenly distributed among them.
They also run through software-based training before returning to the air to test their recollection of key procedures-but Mistrali said there was no cockpit time substitute.
"It's the routines, the reflexes, your sixth sense and the teamwork that's missing when you're on the ground," he said.
By mid-June Air France aims to restore about 600 weekly flights to 110 destinations, allowing travel restrictions-still far short of its usual weekly tally of over 7,000 services to 196 destinations. At present it operates on 43 routes between 200-300 weekly flights.
The airline's 17 simulators will be busy between now and then but not over-stretched, Fernandez said. "They 're always very demanding."
Air France capacity is expected to return to "something like 10 per cent" of normal levels over the coming month, he added. "One thing we can be sure of is it'll be slow to recover."
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