In the last few months, one thing has been made crystal clear: twin-engines are ‘in’ and four-engined aircraft are ‘out.’ This was already a pre-pandemic trend, but due to the drastic downturn in air travel demand, airlines haven’t even been able to utilize the potential life that their quad jets had left. Have you been keeping track of all of the airlines retiring their four-engined aircraft in the last five months? Take your best guest and scroll down to see if you got them all!
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It was early on in the crisis that German carrier Lufthansa announced the retirement of six Airbus A380s, as well as six of its Boeing 747-400s. It was decided several months ago that the carrier’s A340 fleet would be sent into long-term storage and not fully retired.
Unsurprisingly, the situation continues to evolve as the crisis continues to develop. Airlines continue to assess their current and future needs based on border restrictions and the epidemiological situation around the world.
Lufthansa has been reported to be making much deeper cuts to its fleet than initially anticipated. People close to the matter claim that all its A380s could be slated for retirement, alongside all its 747-400s and the bulk of its A340s.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
It was at the end of March that we discovered Dutch flag carrier KLM would be operating its last 747 flight with passengers. While rumors were circulating, the announcement was still a shock as the big blue jumbo jet had become a very familiar sight at Amsterdam Schiphol airport.
Filling the same or similar roles to the Boeing 747s at KLM will be the airline’s fleet of Boeing 777-200s and -300s. In fact, the 777-300ER actually carries the same number of passengers as the full-passenger version of KLM’s 747-400, which is 408.
While Air France was already in the process of retiring its A380 fleet, COVID-19 accelerated the plan significantly. In May, we discovered that the carrier would be completely retiring its A380 fleet.
British Airways had begun retiring its final 31 Boeing 747s in mid-August. Although the British flag carrier had initially planned to retire its last Boeing 747 in 2024, its plans were expedited as it revealed earlier this summer that it would no longer fly the type.
Commenting on the farewell, Al Bridger, British Airways’ Director of Flight Operations, said,
“All of us at British Airways and so many of our customers will have fond memories and special moments from our travels on the iconic jumbo jet…I know I speak for our customers and the global aviation community when I say, despite rightly moving to more sustainable ways of flying, we will still miss the 747 dearly.”
At the beginning of the year, Qantas still operated six 747-400s. Like Air France and its A380s, Qantas very much planned on retiring its old 747s in the near future. In fact, all of the jumbos were eventually going to be retired by the end of this year.
The entire process was sped up due to COVID-19, and the airline said goodbye to its last 747 in late July. The very last flight took an interesting flight path, ‘drawing’ a kangaroo in the skies as it left Sydney for Los Angeles.
In the final week of March, UK carrier Virgin Atlantic retired the last of its Airbus A340 aircraft. The final three quad jets flew to storage on March 24th. According to Virgin Atlantic’s blog, these final three A340s had, between them, spent a combined total of almost 180,000 hours in the sky flying for the airline across more than 21,000 flights.
The airline also announced the retirement of its seven Boeing 747s in May. The retirement of the jumbo jets was already planned. However, as we have seen with other airlines, the retirement was brought forward due to the global crisis.
Spanish carrier Iberia planned to retire its 14 Airbus A340-600 aircraft from service in late June. This was five years earlier than was planned and brought about because of current events. The airline had intended to reduce its A340-600 fleet down to 10 aircraft this year, then five by 2022, and completely phase out the type by 2025.
The final A340 was retired at the end of August.
TUI subsidiary Corsair is retired its three Boeing 747-400s a year earlier than planned. The news came about in late April, leaving the carrier’s Airbus A330-900s to fill the role on long-haul routes.
Other similar situations
In early June, the first A380 left the Emirates fleet. This was likely part of an already-planned retirement and not a result of the current slowdown. However, as a four-engined aircraft that was retired after March 2020, it technically fits within the main question of this article.
In mid-June, South African Airways removed its A340s from operation. It was already evident before the pandemic, however, that the airline was struggling and looking to reduce its operations. The airline isn’t the one responsible for retiring the aircraft as the jets will go back to the lessor.
Looking at this list, were there any airlines or aircraft types that came as a surprise to you? Let us know in the comments!