COVID Won’t Lead To Lufthansa Retiring The Boeing 747 Early

Lufthansa has been decisive in the rightsizing of its fleet. With the A380 added to the list of aircraft bowing out early, hopes for its aging fleet of 747-400s were running thin. However, speaking at the World Aviation Festival last week, CEO Carsten Spohr confirmed that the 744s would be with us a bit longer.

Lufthansa 747-400
The Lufthansa 747-400s will be staying a while longer. Photo: Getty Images

The 747-400 gets a stay of execution

When it became clear that Lufthansa was looking at more aircraft retirements than had initially been proposed, the word on the ground was that both the A380 and the 747-400 fleet could be entirely removed. Previously, Lufthansa was anticipated to be retaining eight A380s alongside 13 Boeing 747-400s, but all were considered to be at risk as the airline looked to trim its fleet father.

However, once the news broke that Lufthansa had reached a decision, it was the A380s that were confirmed to be unlikely to return. The airline said that the remaining eight A380s would be grounded long-term, and only likely to be making a comeback if demand suddenly shot up.

Lufthansa 747-400
What would become of the 744s? Photo: Getty Images

These would be joined by an additional 10 A340 quadjets, which had previously been marked for a service return soon. No mention was made of the 747-400s. Speaking at last week’s World Aviation Festival, CEO of Lufthansa Carsten Spohr outlined the plans for the 747s in his fleet. He said,

“What is important is that when you talk about the 747, at Lufthansa we have two types. We’ve got 14 fairly aged 747-400s, which we will be retiring over the course of the middle of this decade.

“This was always planned to be this way. They were already in our fleet reduction plan.

“And, of course, we have as well our brand new 747-8s which we love to operate. They’re the most efficient aircraft on the fleet for those routes where we have 400 people on board, so we took the decision to take the A380s out, to keep the 748s in, and that will be our flagship.”

Flying the 747-8 as its flagship will put Lufthansa in a unique position. Only a handful of airlines operate the 747-8 as a passenger aircraft. Besides Lufthansa, it’s just Korean Air and Air China, although more airlines fly them as cargo carriers. Lufthansa flies the largest fleet, with 19 of the type, followed by Korean with ten and Air China with just seven.

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Lufthansa 747-800
The -8s will be the ‘flagship’ of the fleet. Photo: Lufthansa

Why isn’t the 747-400 leaving?

Of the 13 747-400s that are in Lufthansa’s fleet, all 13 are currently parked up. The only Queens flying for Lufthansa right now, according to data from Planespotters.com, are eight of its 19 747-8s.

The 747-400s are not young planes. They average an age of 21.7 years overall, although five of the type exceed 23 years old. While Lufthansa may not have much use for the 744s right now, it seems to be their exceptional cargo capacity that has stayed its hand in taking them out of the fleet prematurely. Spohr said,

“They have a lot higher cargo capacity than the A380, so we thought that we have to keep them on board. The 744 will be phased out gradually over the next years.”

Lufthansa, Boeing 747, Retired
The 744s are parked up now but could come back before their retirement. Photo: Getty Images

Just yesterday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued a stark warning that efforts to restore cargo capacity had stalled in August. With much of the passenger fleet still grounded, IATA says that the available cargo tonne kilometers sank almost 30% compared to August last year.

With capacity down and demand on the rise, the price of air freight has soared. It is likely this that has saved the Lufthansa 747-400s, as the CEO keeps an eye on potentially returning them primarily as load shifters rather than people movers.

Are you happy that Lufthansa’s 744s will be staying a little longer? Let us know in the comments.

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