The Boeing 707 made its mark as Air France’s first Boeing, propelling the airline towards global success. By 1969, over 5.5 million passengers flew with Air France – double the traffic of just a decade earlier.
Piloting the jetliner
While the dawn of the Jet Age is often attributed to the Boeing 707, it was not the first jet-powered aircraft that was ever introduced. In 1949, the de Havilland DH106 Comet officially made its debut as the world’s first pressurized commercial jet airliner.
Soon, many airlines, including Air France, were flying the DH106. This, however, was short-lived; the Comet encountered several catastrophic accidents within a year of entering airline operations. As concerns about the aircraft’s structural integrity grew, de Havilland withdrew its jetliner from service for further testing.
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Enter the Boeing 707 – the first-ever jetliner developed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes, a division of The Boeing Company. In 1955, Pan American World Airways became the inaugural airline to place an order for the aircraft type, committing to 20 planes.
A year later, Air France followed suit with an order of ten Boeing 707-320s. The French flag carrier entered the first of its new jetliners into service on January 31, 1960, on the Paris-New York route.
A revolutionary invention
Prior to the 1960s, Air France operated only domestic routes, providing connecting flights to international travelers. However, thanks to the Boeing 707, the airline was able to capture its share of the international market. Not only did this new aircraft type drive Air France’s growth, but it also changed the landscape of air travel.
The 707 could transport 180 passengers from Paris to New York in a record time of eight hours. In comparison, the propeller-powered Lockheed Super Constellation took over 14 hours for the same journey, carrying only half the number of passengers.
Boeing’s jetliner increased Air France’s productivity and efficiency, leading to burgeoning finances and significant growth.
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The two best jets
The emergence of jetliners allowed Air France to operate internationally by halving the flight times on long-haul routes. This led to a boom in the airline’s international operations in the 1960s. Coupling the Boeing 707 with French manufacturer Sud Aviation’s Caravelle, Air France promoted itself as having “the two best jets on the world’s biggest network”.
Owing to the success of the Boeing 707, the airline began to grow its jetliner fleet, welcoming a large number of Boeing aircraft, including the Boeing 727 in 1968, the Boeing 747 in 1970, and the Boeing 737 in 1974.
A double-edged sword
By the end of the 1960s, the success of the Boeing 707 inadvertently led to its own downfall. Due to the exponential growth in air travel facilitated by the popularity of the 707, the aircraft was becoming too small to handle the increased number of passengers on its designated long-distance routes.
In response, Boeing developed the Boeing 747, the world’s first widebody that was two and a half times larger than the 707. The “Jumbo Jet” quickly gained popularity, eventually phasing out the 707.
Today, only a handful of Boeing 707s are still in service, mainly used by the military, including the French Air and Space Force, for aerial refueling and Airborne Warning and Control System missions.
Nonetheless, the Boeing 707 will forever be remembered as the spark of the Jet Age – and the catalyst for Air France’s modern-day success.