Storing aircraft could become quite a headache for airlines and Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) might be a great case to examine. The German airline flew six Boeing 747s to storage at a small Dutch airport in order to park them where doing so is much cheaper. However, when it later wanted to send the aircraft to scrap them – Lufthansa was unable to do so, as the airport’s runway was not certified to allow such heavy aircraft to depart. Yet they were allowed to land. Now, the first of the six 747s stored at the airport finally departed toward its final destination, Mojave Air & Space Port (MHV).
Lufthansa shipped six Boeing 747-400 aircraft to storage at Enschede Twente Airport (ENS) in the Netherlands throughout June and July 2020, according to planespotters.net data. As the current crisis continued and with no end in sight, Lufthansa was forced to adjust its fleet size accordingly. In early-July 2020 the German company announced its intentions to reduce the number of aircraft by 100, including the already completed retirements of six Airbus A380s, 11 Airbus A320s and five Boeing 747-400s at the time.
In September 2020, rumors broke out that Lufthansa was planning to retire the entire fleets of the Airbus A380, the Airbus A340 and the Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The airline confirmed the news later in the month, adding that the total amount of aircraft to be retired ahead of schedule would increase from 100 to 150.
Lufthansa’s stuck 747s
D-ABVY, a Boeing 747 stored at Frankfurt Airport (FRA), Lufthansa’s main base, was shipped to Teruel Airport (TEV) in Spain on October 21, 2020. TEV would most likely end up as the jet’s last destination, where it would be scrapped. But the six 747s, namely D-ABTK, D-ABTL, D-ABVO, D-ABVS, D-ABVX, and D-ABVP, were still stuck at ENS, a small two-runway Dutch airport near the German border.
Even landing at the airport was not an easy task. According to the airport’s informational sheet, if an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Aircraft Approach Category (APC) D wants to operate to and from the Twente Airport, the flight crew must complete mandatory flight tests. Upon the completion of the tests, pilots obtain a license to fly in and out of the airport for one year.
The Boeing 747-400 is a D category aircraft.
As Lufthansa downscaled, and it was clear that the airline’s Boeing 747-400s were no longer of use for them. The aircraft would either end up as converted freighters, be scrapped or in a very unlikely scenario continue passenger service with a new airline.
But Lufthansa could not get rid of them, as they could not take-off. Its only hope would be a one-off exception granted by the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ELT), a supervising authority of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W).
However, the Ministry was not as keen to grant the exception, as Lufthansa or Technology Base, the owners of the airport, were. So much so, that Technology Base was about to file a lawsuit in the Netherlands over the matter. The two sides seemingly found a common ground, as on October 29, 2020, ELT announced that the yet-to-be filed lawsuit was canceled and an agreement was reached.
“Both parties agree that the current state of affairs cannot be repeated,” read the inspectorate’s announcement, thus an exception was granted.
The first Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 to leave was D-AVP. The aircraft departed for Frankfurt Airport (FRA) on November 3, 2020, and is currently en route towards its last destination as a Lufthansa-registered aircraft in Mojave Air & Space Port (MHV), United States.
Time to say good-bye: “Victor-Papa” left Enschede Airport yesterday afternoon. Currently she’s waiting for her next flight from @Airport_FRA as LH9872 on her long final journey to MHV. Make sure to say good-bye! @flightradar24 #planespotting pic.twitter.com/w16l0wdAR4— Lufthansa News (@lufthansaNews) November 4, 2020
According to ELT’s announcement, Lufthansa was looking for potential buyers for the six Boeing 747s. Three aircraft have been sold to their new owners and will leave Twente Airport (ENS) by the end of 2020.
UPDATE 26-09-2019, 17:47 (UTC +3): in a statement to AeroTime News, Lufthansa confirmed that it sold five of its total Boeing 747-400 aircraft.
“The buyer is GE Aviation Materials. The aircraft will be recycled, i.e. after re-certification, spare parts will go back into circulation via the used market, the airframe will be disassembled and recycled,” stated a Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) spokesperson. All five will be shipped to MHV in order for them to be recycled, added the representative. In addition to D-ABVP, D-ABVS and D-ABVO are set to leave the Dutch airport in November and December 2020, respectively. D-ABVR, currently based at Tarbes Airport (LDE) in France, will leave the airline’s fleet in January 2021, while D-ABVT, which is also based in LDE, will leave in February 2021.
“We can also confirm, that after the arrival of the Lufthansa aircraft at Twente Airport (ENS), the Dutch Aviation Authority changed an existing certificate for that airport: Previously, aircraft in size category D (like a 747-400) were allowed to take-off and land for non-commercial MRO purposes and for storage,” wrote the media representative in a statement. The assessment was later changed and now, the aircraft in that category are not permitted to take-off.