Lufthansa mothballs entire A340 fleet as downsizing continues

A big, white Lufthansa plane takes off

Deutsche Lufthansa AG continues to downsize at an aggressive rate, as it adjusts to the realization that it will be a smaller company for the foreseeable future beyond the coronavirus crisis.

The company said Thursday that its biggest subsidiary, Lufthansa Airlines, will decommission its entire fleet of Airbus A340-600 aircraft. The 17 twin-aisle planes will be flown to Teruel, in northeastern Spain, and parked at the airport there for at least 12 to 18 months. The company said 10 days ago that it would mothball seven of the long-haul aircraft, along with several A380 super-jumbo jets and five Boeing 747-400 jumbos.

“A decision on the future use of the aircraft or a possible reactivation of a maximum of 10 aircraft will be taken at a later stage in time,” Lufthansa said in a statement.

With about 240 days of sunshine per year and little rainfall, Teruel Airport has excellent conditions for storing aircraft.

Lufthansa has shrunk its flight operations to about 10% its pre-COVID size since few people are traveling and it, like all carriers, needs to minimize expenses. Airlines are still maintaining limited service on certain “essential” routes, but Lufthansa said it is reducing its schedule even further.

It will now operate 15 weekly long-haul connections: three from Frankfurt to Newark, New Jersey, and Chicago, Sao Paulo, Bangkok and Tokyo. The three weekly connections to Montreal will also be canceled. Meanwhile, it will offer up to 36 daily connections from its Frankfurt hub to key cities in Germany and Europe and six daily connections to German cities from Munich, as of May 4.

Swiss International Airlines will continue to offer three weekly flights to Newark from Zurich and Geneva, but will substantially reduce the timetable for short- and medium-haul flights in Europe.

Two productive sources of revenue for passenger airlines in the past six weeks have been cargo-only and repatriation flights. Many airlines have turned their planes into quasi-freighters, running dedicated charters and, in some cases, scheduled routes on behalf of shippers who are experiencing a transportation shortage with so many planes sidelined by the crash in travel demand. With fuel prices low and airfreight rates high, operating planes as freighters with freight only in the lower deck is economical, and Lufthansa is even putting lightweight boxes in the seating area to maximize capacity.

Lufthansa said Thursday it has already flown 94 special cargo flights with relief supplies on board.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa Group has repatriated 94,000 vacationers and travelers on 437 special flights from 106 airports around the world. Eleven more flights are scheduled in the coming days. The rescue flights have been scheduled by governments throughout Europe, as well as tour operators and cruise lines.

Lufthansa’s Eurowings has also operated 27 so-called “harvesting” flights with about 2,500 people on board and nine more scheduled. 

Repatriation flights pose a logistics challenge because many operational, regulatory and diplomatic steps have to be arranged with only a few days notice.

About 40 of the foreign airports are not regular Lufthansa Group destinations so the company had to bring in additional personnel for handling baggage and catering. It also had to organize accommodations for cockpit and cabin crews, fuel, and maintenance in a short period of time. Local embassies were engaged to help obtain necessary overflight and traffic rights.

Further challenges, Lufthansa said, included local curfews, rapidly changing restrictions on public gathering, and airports that were partly closed.

Deutsche Lufthansa’s (CXE: LHA) share price has fallen by nearly two-thirds in the past year.