KLM’s 747’s retire, the return of more international flights, Emirates 35th!

Having retired the aircraft once back in March, KLM was forced to reactivate three of their 744M “Combi” so that the Netherlands could continue to operate an urgent air bridge to China for the supply of the PPE equipment demanded by the covid pandemic.

While the need for the equipment remains and is indeed growing again, the need for the 744M’s has largely diminished, as cargo operators take up the slack and KLM’s own belly cargo operations have ramped up.

Yesterday the last aircraft were permanently retired. Only some 54 of the slightly bizarre Combi version were ever delivered, and 15 of those went to KLM. They were fitted with a rear side cargo door, and the cargo section was about as far forward as the rear wing root. Forward of that was the passenger section. The aircraft had to be loaded with cargo before going over to the passenger stands for boarding.

Typical active 747-406M KLM Combi layout

All KLM’s 747-406M’s had their galley on the right side, with a mix of business and economy seating forward. However the 744M’s were rarely all used for cargo, and the rear sections could and often were fitted with more seating in the cargo section, an operation designed to be added or removed in around 24 hours.

rear cargo door in use

Back in 2016 KLM committed to keep the aircraft in use until 2024, but Covid changed that, along with everything else.

Singapore Airlines has decided to re-start its worlds longest flight, the mammoth 19 hour trip to New York over the North Pole. Quite who wants to use it right now, remains uncertain, and the company said it didn’t take the decision lightly. Some people are wondering why this and why now? Regulations in the US still make entry difficult and they’re unlikely to change until (and if) there is a new administration in late January 2021.

At the same time Saudia has announced it’s resuming 13 international routes for the first time since March. In Europe and North America, the major trans-Atlantic Airlines are pushing for all sorts of concessions to restart the profitable London/Frankfurt/Paris New York routes and yet the realities of Covid are that even if they did, the demand for seats is a trickle at best. Generally speaking, every one of the norther hemisphere airlines has now switched to its winter timetables and they’re looking at having a bleak winter.

The only good news came from the UK where the government took the Spanish Canary Islands off a quarantine list, causing a near stampede of bookings for the islands over the school half terms, and airlines desperately looking for aircraft they could rush back to service and crews to fly them.

Down in the southern hemisphere, Australia is seeing domestic demand return as they enter the southern Spring season, and strict quarantines and Covid reduction measures have started to pay off.

Bit by bit some international travel is returning, and airports have been playing a role in this with their strict procedures and the adoption of testing before and after a flight, although its expensive and time consuming.

And congratulations to Emirates – they flew their fist scheduled flight 35 years ago today, from Karachi to Pakistan on wet leased PIA aircraft.

Now they’re one of the worlds leading airlines and the worlds biggest operator of the A380 – by miles.