Lufthansa is on the cusp of having to make major decisions on its future next week.
The Group is to decide in a weeks time, on the future of the A380 fleet, the remaining handful of 744’s and the 748i’s. The question is simple; do four engine aircraft of this scale meet the current and future needs of the airline?
For the most part the 748i’s are considered safest, but it seems certain the remaining 744’s will be scrapped. The biggest question hangs over the A380’s, already reduced in number, are they viable, are they useable, and do they really have a future worth investing in?
Overall it seems the A380’s simply don’t meet basic tests for viability. There numbers already cut from 14 to 8 are below the ideal for long term service reliability. The passengers to fill them won’t return in sufficient numbers to make them worthwhile until 2022 at the earliest, and then only on one flight a day routes. Those routes will also have to be profitable. Even a single long haul flight a day requires three serviceable aircraft to maintain it.
That provides just two major profit routes plus one backup aircraft and one in service at any one time. The alternative is to use them on mid-haul routes – but those are less well suited to A380 passenger numbers, although they would only need two aircraft per route, allowing three destinations, still providing a backup aircraft and one in service.
The decisions on the aircraft will also determine how many more cabin staff and support staff the airline can make redundant. Each A380 needs around 200 staff in all roles from cabin crew and pilots to airport handling and maintenance.
There are so few 744’s left it makes no sense to retain them.
The question that must also be answered for Fraport – the owners of Frankfurt Airport, is what will happen to the 1km long special A terminal gates designed specifically for Lufthansa and its A380’s? They can obviously be used (and are) for other aircraft types, but they were designed with an extra level for the upper deck passengers and serve no purpose without them. Will they move non-Lufthansa A380 operations to the terminal? They don’t need to as they already have alternate gates.
Lufthansa may choose to go down the only truly viable path it has for the next three years, and the harsh reality is that means the age of the four engined jet is over. Even if they retain the 748i for a couple of years, it was always intended to limit them to ten, and the first ones of the 19 reach that next year.
With A359 already here, 787 and 777-9 down the road, the future seems clear, if a little distant.