AMSTERDAM — KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will celebrate its 100th birthday on October 7, 2019. To commemorate 100 days of celebration ahead of the big day, the airline held a large event at the heart of its network operations, Hangar 12 at Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport.

Founded on October 7, 1919, by a group of private investors, KLM would launch its first flights on May 17, 1920, between Amsterdam and London.

From being an early adopter of transatlantic flights to being one of the first to operate the mighty Boeing 747 in 1971, KLM has served as a pioneer on many fronts in the airline industry in its 100 years.

While KLM has undoubtedly had a major impact on the global economy, its economic footprint can best be seen in its home of the Netherlands.

With revenues totaling almost €11 billion in 2018 and employing over 33,000 people, KLM has become a core fixture to the Dutch economy.

The success of KLM is the success of the Netherlands. With a wide-ranging network and a large number of destinations, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is of great importance for our accessibility, our business climate, employment opportunities, and the position of Schiphol Airport.

— Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen
Cora van Nieuwenhuizen

After a nearly 30 minute presentation by KLM President and CEO Pieter Elbers that highlighted KLM’s rich history and accomplishments, it was time to officially begin the 100 Day Celebration.

To do this, two employees that are descendants of one of KLM’s founding fathers and first CEO were presented with #KLM100 pins and the opportunity to officially start 100 days of celebration with the push of a button.

After a countdown from 10 in Dutch, KLM Blue streamers were launched from beneath the wings of KLM’s Orange Pride 777-300ER.

To kick off its centennial celebration, KLM had planned to fly the first of 15 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners directly from Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina factory to Hangar 12.

Unfortunately, due to an undisclosed and unforeseen delay with the delivery of this aircraft, the 787-10 was substituted by a smaller but otherwise identical 787-9.

KLM’s first 787-10 arrives in Amsterdam a day late on June 30th

When pressed as to the reason for the delay, Elbers told Airways:

“We get aircraft delivered every year. There is always some procedures to be done before the aircraft is signed off. Sometime administrative and sometimes other things. In fact, what we have right now is an unfortunate delay.”

When asked by Airways what he believes is KLM’s greatest short-term challenge, Elbers said:

Pieter Elbers

“On the short term really it is to make sure that we keep what I call our license to operate. The challenges we have in terms of sustainability, the challenges we have in order to make sure we do it in a good way.”

One way that KLM hopes to achieve a higher level of sustainability is its Fly Responsibly campaign.

Under this campaign, KLM has penned an open letter and invitation to the aviation and airline industry as a whole to share in KLM’s existing sustainability practices and tools, and provide KLM with their respective insights in return. 

Just as airlines and manufacturers share common best practices in safety, KLM believes that best practices in sustainability should be shared universally across the industry as a whole.

“Sustainable development in aviation is not a ‘one-airline-topic’ and actual progress will only be made when we work together as an industry. That’s why with the launch of the ‘Fly Responsibly’ initiative, we invite others to use our CO2Zero-programme for carbon compensation free of charge and free of brand, and partner in our corporate BIO-fuel program.” 

When asked for KLM’s greatest challenge in the long-term, Elbers said:

“On the long term, the infrastructure challenges are clearly there. You look at the European airspace is really something where investments have to be done and choices have to be made.”

In addition to operating in some of the world’s most congested airspaces, KLM also calls one of the most congested airports in the world home.

With over 71 million passengers and just under half a million aircraft movements in 2018 alone, Amsterdam-Schiphol is operating at near maximum capacity.

This leaves KLM and its low-cost carrier Transavia with little room to grow.

“Our network development for this year is pretty limited in terms of increased capacity. As you know, the Schiphol Airport is rather full, if not completely full so the way for us to expand our capacity is by operating larger aircraft.”

One such aircraft that will bring higher capacity for KLM is the 787-10.

KLM’s first 787-10 arrives in Amsterdam on June 30th

With 344 seats in a three-class configuration, the 787-10 will be used on a variety of routes in KLM’s network such as to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, Dubai, Nairobi, San Francisco, and Toronto.

The Dreamliner Future At KLM

With the delivery of their first 787-10, the Dreamliner further cements itself as the future backbone of KLM’s long-haul fleet.

With 13 787-9s already flying throughout their global network, the total 787 fleet will grow to 28 Dreamliners once all aircraft are delivered.

Newly delivered 787-10s will be used to replace KLM’s aging fleet of 747-400 and 747-400M aircraft. With an average age of over 22 years along with fuel inefficient engines, the days of KLM’s former fleet flagship are numbered.

This week, KLM and Air France announced a deal to swap aircraft on order with KLM giving seven Airbus A350-900 slots to Air France in exchange for six 787-10 slots.

The partner airlines made the swap with the hopes of simplifying fleet types across each carrier, something both airlines have struggled with in the past.

Forecasting Narrowbody Plans

While Air France and KLM have the future of their wide-body fleets planned, both airlines have yet decided the future of their narrowbody fleets.

With over 240 737 and A320 family aircraft across the Air France-KLM family of airlines, the group will soon need to commit to the narrow-body aircraft(s) of its future.

With KLM and Transavia operating large fleets of 737s and Air France operating A320 family aircraft, a split aircraft order between Airbus and Boeing may be in the future.

With their narrow-body fleet only getting older and aircraft backlogs stretching years out, now may be the perfect time for Air France-KLM to commit to their future short-haul needs.

International Airlines Group (owners of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, LEVEL, and Vueling), stole headlines at June’s Paris Air Show by announcing an order for up to 200 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

The 737 MAX, which has been grounded worldwide since March due to two fatal crashes, had failed to sell any units in months. The order by IAG in Paris was seen as a vote of confidence in the 737 MAX program by one of the industries major power players.

Photo: Maarten Visser

To entice IAG to order the 737 MAX, it has been widely reported that Boeing offered a substantial discount off of the plane’s list price. While airlines regularly receive discounts on aircraft orders, it is believed that IAG’s discount was so substantial that Airbus was not given a chance to present a counteroffer.

With airlines around the world going on an order frenzy in recent years and thousands upon thousands of narrow-body aircraft in manufacturer’s backlogs, Air France-KLM finds itself in the unique position of being one of the few major established names in the industry yet to purchase the A320neo or 737 MAX.

Could the group take a chance on Boeing and ask for a similar or better deal for the 737 MAX as IAG got at the Paris Air Show? Or will Airbus refuse to allow another of Europe’s top names to side with Boeing and offer Air France-KLM a very lucrative deal for the widely popular A320neo?

At the smaller end of KLM’s fleet, plans for the future have already been established.

At June’s Paris Air Show, KLM’s wholly owned regional airline, KLM Cityhopper, announced a deal with Embraer to purchase upwards of 35 E195-E2 aircraft. Firm orders account for 15 of these aircraft with the rest being purchase rights.

Centennial Success

As KLM flies into its next 100 years of existence, it will look to maintain its position as a leader and visionary in the airline industry.

It hopes to do so while facing challenges both at home in terms of infrastructure challenges in Amsterdam and abroad in terms of its sometimes tumultuous relationship with its partner Air France.

While it is impossible to predict the next 100 years, something exciting is undoubtedly happening at Air France-KLM. With a mean age of only 48 years old among its top three executives, Air France-KLM has made a series of recent moves to better position itself in the competitive European environment.

With the folding of Air France’s low-cost subsidiary, Joon, and this week’s announcement of aircraft order swaps to better standardize its respective fleets, group Chief Executive Benjamin Smith appears to have Air France-KLM steered in the right direction.

In 2018, the group reported a profit of €409 million on €26.5 billion in revenue. This marked a 150% increase even while Air France faced strikes that cost the airline €335 million.

Stay tuned for more KLM news, especially on the upcoming September/October special issue of Airways, which will be wholly dedicated to the 100th anniversary of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.