Lufthansa Used To Operate Combi Boeing 747s: What Happened To Them?

Lufthansa is one of the few airlines maintaining a fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft, let alone the -400. While the last of the type was retired in 2014, the Boeing 747-400 Combi used to be part of the German flag carrier’s fleet, with seven aircraft operating for the airline.

Lufthansa Boeing 747, Combi
Lufthansa operated seven combi Boeing 747-400s. Photo: Getty Images

The general consensus is that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t looked kindly on the Boeing 747 family as far as passenger models are concerned. One airline that ditched the type was KLM, although a couple of its aircraft did experience a brief reprieve due to their ability to carry cargo on the passenger deck. These were the Combis, and KLM isn’t the only airline to have used the type.

Lufthansa’s Combi fleet

According to data from ch-aviation.com, Lufthansa has operated seven combi versions of the Boeing 747-400 during its history. The first aircraft joined the fleet in September 1989, with the last being retired from the fleet as recently December 2014.

The first Combi to join the fleet

The seven aircraft were registered as D-ABTA through D-ABTH, with D-ABTG being skipped. Unsurprisingly, the first aircraft to be delivered was D-ABTA with the serial number 24285. Lufthansa ordered this aircraft on May 21st, 1986. Three and a bit years later, the aircraft took its first flight on August 20th, 1989, before Lufthansa took delivery of it a month later on September 19th.

Lufthansa Boeing 747, Combi
Lufthansa’s first Boeing 747-400(M) was delivered in 1989. Photo: wilco737 via Flickr

This particular aircraft left the fleet in October 2012 and was scrapped at Tupelo Regional Airport (TUP) in the United States at the age of 23 years. Before this, the airline got its money’s worth from the plane. It completed 98,810 flight hours across 13,226 cycles. This gives the plane an average flight length of 07:28 and means that its average daily was 10 hours and 53 minutes. Interestingly, the first Lufthansa Boeing 777X, a plane designed to replace the 747-400, will also be registered D-ABTA.

The last Combi to leave the fleet

The last Combi to leave the Lufthansa fleet was D-ABTF. With the serial number 24967, this Boeing 747 was ordered by the German aviation giant in June 1989. The aircraft was delivered on April 23rd, 1991, having undertaken its first flight on March 29th.

This aircraft was the last Combi to leave the Lufthansa fleet, doing so in December 2014. Having been retired, the airline sent the aircraft to Mojave (MHV) in the Californian desert. While significant parts such as engines and doors have been removed from the aircraft, it was still reasonably intact as of March 2020.

Lufthansa Boeing 747, Combi
Lufthansa’s last Boeing 747-400 combi is resting its wings in the Mojave Desert. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

According to Boeing data provided by ch-aviation.com, the plane clocked up more time in service than its little sister mentioned above. D-ABTF completed 117,398 flight hours over 14,761 flight cycles. The aircraft has a higher average flight time of 07:57 hours but was only used for 10 hours and 41 minutes each day on average,

The rest of the fleet

In total, the Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 Combi fleet clocked up an impressive 643,843 flight hours. That converts to 26826 days, 881 months, or 73.4 years of flight. Each of the aircraft met the following fate,

AircraftMSNEntered ServiceRetiredFateFlight HoursFlight Cycles
D-ABTA2428519/09/198930/10/2012Scrapped (TUP)89,81013,226
D-ABTB2428622/12/198928/08/2012Scrapped (TUP)98,93813,327
D-ABTC2428703/02/199023/06/2012Scrapped (TUP)100,77613,115
D-ABTD2471527/04/199010/08/2012Scrapped112,46514,430
D-ABTE2496613/04/199106/08/2012Stored (OSC)106,69013,527
D-ABTF2496723/04/199111/12/2014Stored (MHV)117,39814,761
D-ABTH2504705/06/199118/11/2014Scrapped (MHV)115,45614,587

Interestingly, it seems as though a single aircraft did get sold to a new owner. That particular aircraft is D-ABTE. According to ch-aviation.com, the aircraft is owned by Kalitta Air and has been since May 29th, 2013. Having been removed from service in July 2012, the aircraft completed two further flights equaling eight hours in May 2013.

According to photos and satellite images, the aircraft remains in its Lufthansa livery, albeit with the registration N769CK. Various key parts of the aircraft have been removed. It would seem as though Kalitta has purchased the aircraft to provide spare Boeing 747-400 parts.

Why the Boeing 747-400(M)?

The Boeing 747-400(M), otherwise known as the Combi, was popular with a few airlines due to its flexibility. 43 of the aircraft were built, with only a handful remaining active today. The beauty of the aircraft was its additional freight capacity above and beyond the standard Boeing 747-400.

Lufthansa Boeing 747, Combi
The Combi version of the 747-400 has a rear cargo door on the main deck. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

The aircraft had a large rear cargo door, allowing for the rear of the passenger deck to be used for cargo pallets. The front of the deck, alongside the bubble at the top, was used in the typical way for paying passengers.

The rear section was separated from the passenger cabin by a partition. This was to create a technically separate part of the aircraft to contain flames in the unlikely event cargo catches fire. The section had a more robust floor, equipped with rollers to make loading pallets easy. However, it was also possible to turn the area into further passenger accommodation if needed. This is why you can see windows on the fuselage in the cargo section.

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Retiring the Combi Queen

While five of Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-400 Combis were retired in 2012, the remaining two stuck around until 2014. This means that, in total, the airline was operating the sub-type for just over 25 years. Today, Lufthansa’s oldest widebody, a standard 747-400, is 23.55 years old, suggesting that the aircraft had served their time when Lufthansa retired them.

While the Combi sub-fleet may have served its time, the Boeing 747-400 isn’t dead in the eyes of Lufthansa. The airline has just eight of the type left. However, it isn’t the end of the road just yet. While the entire remaining 747-400 fleet is currently in storage, the airline has committed to bringing all eight aircraft back to provide capacity until it takes delivery of its first Boeing 777X, hopefully in 2023.

Lufthansa Boeing 747, Combi
KLM finally retired its last combi jumbo jet earlier this year. Photo: KLM

As mentioned above, only a couple of Combis remain flying today. KLM was by far the largest operator of the type. The airline had 17 Combis, equating to 40% of all -400 combis built. KLM just beat Lufthansa as the launch customer of the mixed-use jumbo jet by a week. Despite this, the Dutch airline hung onto its planes longer, waiting until March of this year to finally send the type on its final voyage.

Did you get to fly on a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 Combi? How was it? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!

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