Which Airlines Have Retired Aircraft Since The Pandemic Started?

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When COVID-19 was finally recognized as a pandemic, most airlines may not have fully realized what it might mean for their fleets. However, as the weeks went by and the seriousness and long-term ramifications of the virus became clear, carriers all over the world have continued to re-evaluate their fleet structures and hasten the retirement timelines of their older and less efficient jets. So which airlines have retired aircraft since the pandemic started?

Lufthansa, Long Haul, Grounded
To date, Lufthansa had already decommissioned seven Airbus A380s. Photo: Getty Images

A moving target

Trying to write a comprehensive list of airlines retiring aircraft is akin to aiming at a moving target. Surely, some airlines are mulling aircraft retirements but have yet to officially make their announcements. Others may start to consider aircraft retirement months from now if the situation doesn’t improve.

As a result, we’ll try to make this list as accurate as possible at the time of writing but we may need to write a follow-up piece later this season!

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Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic is saying goodbye to its 747 fleet. Photo: Getty Images

The list

Without further delay, here is what we know so far of aircraft retirements:

  • Air Canada is sending 79 planes into early retirement. This includes Boeing 767s, Airbus A319s, and Embraer 190s.
  • Air France will retire all nine of its remaining Airbus A380s.
  • American Airlines is saying goodbye to 17 767-300ERs this month. It is also retiring its 757s, a number of Boeing 737s, Embraer 190s, and Airbus A330-300s. The airline has decided to keep its fleet of 15 Airbus A330-200 aircraft in long-term storage into 2022. It remains to be seen if these will return at that time. Finally, the carrier has yet to announce the retirement of its Boeing 777s but it may be something to monitor closely.
  • Austrian Airlines is to retire half of its Boeing 767 fleet. As the airline operates six such aircraft, this would see three remain.
  • Corsair, a TUI subsidiary, is retiring its three Boeing 747-400s one year earlier than planned.
  • Delta Air Lines will say goodbye to its MD-88 and MD-90 jets next month. The airline will also retire all 18 of its Boeing 777s by the end of this year.
  • KLM said goodbye to its aging Boeing 747s in March – although some were brought out of retirement for cargo-only operations.
  • Lufthansa has already announced the retirement of seven Airbus A380s. The carrier has made no mention of its aging A340s. Again, this is something to keep an eye on.
  • Singapore Airlines has opted to retire its 777-200ERs earlier than expected.
  • Virgin Atlantic will say goodbye to its seven Boeing 747-400s. The airline also finally retired the last of its Airbus A340 aircraft at the end of March.
Air Canada Rouge
Air Canada will say goodbye to 79 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Airlines to watch

The airlines below have yet to formally announce any retirement of their older aircraft. However, given the trend and the current state of aviation, these carriers are definitely worth keeping an eye on:

  • British Airways has an aging fleet of 747s which will eventually be replaced by the 777X and A350. However, no announcements have been made yet.
  • Emirates may speed up the retirement of 46 of the airline’s 115-strong fleet of A380s. No concrete timeline has been provided yet.
  • Qantas has constantly faced rumors that it will retire its A380 fleet at some point.
  • Qatar Airways may also speed up the retirement of its A380s.
  • United Airlines may follow American’s lead and retire its 767s and 757s.
KLM-tailfins-schiphol
KLM’s big blue 747s have been retired from commercial passenger service. Photo: KLM

Conclusion

While its sad to see some iconic aircraft leave some iconic airlines, the costs of maintenance and upkeep for long-term aircraft parking and storage would add up fast – especially for larger airlines. Thus, in a prudent move to reduce cash burn, and prepare for the multi-year recovery process, airlines must ‘bite the bullet’ and say goodbye to their oldest aircraft.

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Did we miss any airlines? Who else do you think will join this list? Let us know in the comments and we’ll update this list!

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