Two French Mirage jets have been dispatched to search for the missing plane, the French military announced on Thursday afternoon.
Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier said that “a number” of French nationals on board and that crisis measures had been taken.
"The head office of civil aviation has set up a crisis centre to gather information regarding the number of victims, seemingly 110 persons, and their nationalities," he announced. "Apparently French passengers were on board - and a lot of them."
Air Algérie’s representative in Burkina Faso said that at least 50 French citizens were among the passengers.
Flight AH 5017 disappeared above Gao, in the troubled north of Mali, at 1.55am GMT, 50 minutes after leaving Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
There were people of several nationalities on board, according to Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalik Sellal.
The McDonnell 83, chartered to Spanish company Swiftair, was carrying 119 people and seven crew, according to Air Algérie, although Swiftair said there were 120 passengers and the Spanish pilots’ union Sepla said there were six crew, all of them Spanish.
Two Air Algérie pilots were among the passengers, according to their relatives.
“Air Algérie lost contact with the plane when it was 500km from the Algerian frontier after telling it to change route because of poor visibility and the danger of a collision with a plane flying between Algiers and the Malian capital, Bamako.