Lufthansa Bets On Small: 4 Engine Aircraft To Mostly Be Retired

Four-engine widebodies have historically been crucial to Lufthansa, but in the recent past, twinjets have become increasingly important. This year, two-engine aircraft have overtaken quads for the most widebody capacity, but quads still play a key role in Lufthansa’s fleet – for now.

Lufthansa Bets On Small: 4 Engine Aircraft To Mostly Be Retired
For the first time, Lufthansa’s twin-engine aircraft have more capacity than those with four engines, including the B747-8, pictured above. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Lufthansa has operated eight widebody types in the past decade. Despite the sex appeal of the A380 and Boeing 747, it is the twin-engine A330-300 that has been the carrier’s most significant widebody aircraft. This is in terms of total seat capacity and is based on adding up all years between 2011 and 2021.

  1. A330-300: 39,484,040 total seats
  2. B747-400: 33,575,917
  3. A340-600: 30,570,423
  4. A340-300: 28,966,975
  5. A380: 26,201,009
  6. B747-8: 25,642,334
  7. A350-900: 7,919,497
  8. A330-200: 90,520
Lufthansa Bets On Small: 4 Engine Aircraft To Mostly Be Retired
The A330-300 has been – and remains – the backbone of Lufthansa’s widebodies. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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The A330-200

The A330-200 is interesting. Lufthansa’s own A330-200s were operated until 2006, but the carrier leased aircraft in 2019 from SunExpress Deutschland, a joint venture between Lufthansa and fellow Star Alliance partner Turkish Airlines, to launch one route.

This was Munich to Bangkok, which operated once-daily. Europe to the Thai capital is typically low-yielding with relatively low premium demand because it’s leisure-driven. As such, airlines tend to operate aircraft with more seats – denser aircraft with lower seat-mile costs to counteract lower yields – or otherwise operate aircraft with older or lower-quality hard products.

Lufthansa Bets On Small: 4 Engine Aircraft To Mostly Be Retired
Due to the lower-yielding nature of Bangkok, Lufthansa used SunExpress Deutschland’s A330-200s instead of its own A350-900s, pictured above. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Lufthansa’s widebodies

Following the retirement of the A380 and A340-600, Lufthansa’s widebody fleet this year comprises five types: the A330-300; B747-400; A340-300; B747-8; and A350-900. Last week, Simple Flying identified that Lufthansa will use its 747-8s on 16 routes from Frankfurt.

With three in ten seats, the A330 remains number-one, while the B747-400 has declined to fewer than 800,000 seats. Nonetheless, Simple Flying showed that Lufthansa is now the sole user of passenger 747s – both -400s and -8s – between North America and Europe.

Lufthansa Bets On Small: 4 Engine Aircraft To Mostly Be Retired
Lufthansa has five operational widebody types this year. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Quads vs. twins

Four-engine widebodies have been utterly crucial to Lufthansa, with each year typically seeing three to six times the total capacity of its twins. The introduction of the A350-900 in 2017 helped to speed up the decline, with coronavirus making it faster than ever intended. And now, in 2021, Lufthansa’s twins have more capacity than their four-engine siblings.

Lufthansa Bets On Small: 4 Engine Aircraft To Mostly Be Retired
In 2019, before the impact of COVID was felt, Lufthansa’s quads had 2.2x the capacity of its twins, the lowest ever. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Twins make sense

Lufthansa’s greater focus on smaller and more cost-efficient twins makes sense, as it does for the other airlines around the world doing the same.

After all, a good chunk of an aircraft’s overall acquisition cost comes from the powerplants, so halving the number obviously makes a meaningful difference. And twins are normally lighter than quads for around the same payload. This lower weight means lower navigation charges, landing charges, fuel burn, and carbon charges.

Lufthansa Bets On Small: 4 Engine Aircraft To Mostly Be Retired
Lufthansa’s widebody quads are now the A340-300, B747-400, and B747-8. The A340s and -400s will be replaced much sooner than the -8s. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

76 aircraft on order, including 787s

Lufthansa’s drive towards twins continues. The Lufthansa Group has 76 two-engine widebodies on order, as shown below, with this including 10 additional B787-9s and A350-900s that were announced this week. These 10 will go directly to Lufthansa itself, but the breakdown of others among Group members isn’t yet clear-cut.

  1. A350-900: 31 on order
  2. B787-9: 25
  3. B777-9: 20

The A350 and B787 will replace the A340, while the B777-9 will replace the remaining B747-400s. When the time comes, it’ll be relatively straightforward to replace the A330 and B747-8, with its widebody fleet perhaps ultimately comprising three types: A350; B777; and B787.

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