13 Lufthansa Aircraft Virtually Grounded By Coronavirus Situation

The German airline group Lufthansa has reportedly grounded the equivalent of 13 long-haul aircraft due to the coronavirus outbreak. The company told Reuters that its cancellation of various connections to China had meant there is the equivalent of 13 widebody aircraft in its fleet which were not needed right now, and were effectively grounded for the foreseeable.

13 Lufthansa Group widebodies are effectively grounded due to coronavirus. Photo: Getty

Lufthansa’s widebody problem

Earlier this month, the Lufthansa Group announced a suspension of flights to mainland China due to the coronavirus epidemic. The 14th February saw the airline group updating its timetable with the new schedules, which saw a suspension of all flights to mainland China until the end of the IATA winter season.

This takes flight suspensions up to the 28th March. Previously, the group had been anticipating the resumption of services by the 29th February, but with the spread of the virus showing no signs of slowing down, it has become clear that a longer suspension will be necessary.

As well as canceling flights to mainland China, the group has curtailed its flights to Hong Kong, operating only some of the services it usually does. A spokesperson told Reuters that,

“This will have noticeable effects on business.”                               

The Lufthansa Group includes the German airline Lufthansa, as well as SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Eurowings. The suspension of flights to mainland China affects Austrian, SWISS and the main Lufthansa airline only.

Austrian Airlines
Austrian Airlines is affected by the flight suspension. Photo: Getty

What will Lufthansa do with these spare widebody aircraft?

Let’s get something straight here. There are not 13 Lufthansa Group widebody aircraft sitting at an airport somewhere. The number is given as an equivalent number of seats, giving us a digestible way to envisage the loss of capacity.

It’s highly unlikely that Lufthansa will physically take 13 aircraft out of service until the end of March. Planes on the ground require extensive maintenance to keep them ticking over, leading to high costs for the airline.

Lufthansa A340 rainbow
Lufthansa will use the opportunity to undertake routine maintenance. Photo: Getty

Rather, Lufthansa Group is likely to rotate aircraft out of service among its fleet. The Group advised Simple Flying,

At present, the capacity of around 13 long-haul aircraft of Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian Airlines is not being utilized due to the suspension of flights to mainland China. This is currently having noticeable economic consequences. In order to make the most efficient use of the time during the operational break of the affected aircraft, necessary maintenance work will be carried out, in some cases even brought forward. In addition, free capacities are initially planned as operational reserves at the hubs in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Zurich to stabilize the flight schedule. No decision has yet been made regarding further use beyond this.

Lufthansa itself operates 93 widebody aircraft, including A350s, A340s, A330s, A380s and Boeing 747s. Austrian’s fleet is smaller with six a piece of the Boeing 777 and 767, while SWISS flies a mix of 777s, A340s and A330s for long haul operations.

Yesterday, IATA estimated that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak would shrink Asia-Pacific travel demand by around 13%, and said that the global lost revenue could end up being as much as $29.3bn. Australian airline Qantas estimated that the impact of the coronavirus would cost it more than $100m, while El Al said it was hurting revenue by some $50m.

What do you think about Lufthansa’s widebody grounding? Should they deploy these aircraft on other routes? Let us know in the comments.