German flag carrier Lufthansa is in the process of modernizing its long-haul fleet. While it felt the coronavirus pandemic’s impact as much as any other airline last year, it did provide a good opportunity to speed up this process. Over the past 12 months, it has used the downturn in passenger demand to place larger and older aircraft into storage. But will the current crisis prevent these aircraft from being replaced in time?
Out with the old
In April 2020, as COVID-19 brought commercial air travel to a near standstill, Lufthansa sent its 17 remaining Airbus A340-600s to a Spanish aircraft graveyard for decommissioning. Nine months later, in January 2021, they were still in storage in Teruel. However, at this stage, CEO Carsten Spohr hinted that it would be unlikely that these quadjets would return to service.
The pandemic also saw the Airbus A380 become increasingly obsolete in the modern airline industry. Similarly to the A340-600, Lufthansa suggested in September 2020 that its superjumbos would be unlikely to return to service. It reaffirmed this position in November 2020, when it published its third-quarter results.
However, there was a twist of fate lady month. It was revealed that Lufthansa planning to remove at least five of its grounded A340-600s from storage next summer. This process would to allow the airline to bolster its first class from its Munich hub.
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In January 2021, it then sent its remaining A380s into storage, casting further doubt over the type’s future at the airline. In addition to Teruel, Lufthansa announced that some would also be sent into storage at a dedicated facility in Lourdes-Tarbes, France.
In terms of its other quadjets, Lufthansa parked several Boeing 747-8s on an inactive runway at Frankfurt International in December 2020. However, these next-generation jumbos, of which Lufthansa is the largest passenger operator, are still relatively new to the airline. The German flag carrier only began flying the type in 2012, and so the aforementioned runway storage at Frankfurt was merely a temporary measure.
In with the new
Lufthansa has big plans for the future of its long-haul fleet. In 2019, it ordered $12 billion worth of new aircraft, amounting to 20 Airbus A350s and 20 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. It plans for these to replace its remaining Airbus A340 fleet. These aircraft are comparatively inefficient and also not getting any younger!
Following its A340-600 fleet’s retirement, Lufthansa has 17 remaining A340-300s, making it the largest operator of this variant. According to Planespotters.net, 12 of the 17 were active at the time of writing, when they had an average age of 21.3 years.
Lufthansa and the Boeing 777X
Another aircraft family that will help shape Lufthansa’s long-haul future is the Boeing 777X. This next-generation widebody twinjet made its first test flight in January 2020. The airline had 20 examples of the larger 777-9 on order at the time of writing.
As of July 2020, the airline was hoping to receive its first 777-9 in 2021, despite the pandemic-induced industry-wide downturn. However, a culmination of delays led Boeing to announce the postponement of this until at least late 2023 in January 2021. The American manufacturer cited factors in the decision to push the 777X’s first delivery back as,
“An updated assessment of certification requirements, (…) increased change incorporation costs, and associated customer and supply chain impacts.”
It had already been delayed once, to 2022, in the summer of 2020. Having made the type’s first order back in November 2013, Lufthansa will have had to wait a decade for its first delivery as things stood at the time of writing. However, with the 777X being touted as an aircraft that will change the game, the German flag carrier will hopefully find that it is worth the wait.
How do you see Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet development panning out over the coming years? Have you ever flown on one of the German flag carrier’s widebodies? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!