Stranded in Storage: Has Lufthansa Lost Six 747s?

The Boeing 747-400s were flown into the facility earlier this year and are now stuck 

The phone call from the operations manager at Twente Airport in the Netherlands to someone at Lufthansa earlier this week must have been an uncomfortable one. “Hi…yeah we’ve got a big problem,” is probably how it went.   

The quandary that the pair find themselves in is unusual and not one of their own making. Six of the German flag carrier’s Boeing 747-400s safely stored at the Dutch airport in June this year are stuck. No, not stuck in the mud but trapped in the red tape and bureaucracy of the country’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. 

The German flag carrier has operated a total of 31 -400 examples since its first delivery in 1989. Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory

Essentially, the jets can’t leave the airport because the Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport (Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate, ILT) has imposed widebody departure restrictions at the facility meaning that aircraft of that size can land, but not take-off. 

A spokesperson for Lufthansa told Key.Aero that after the arrival of its aircraft at Twente, the Dutch aviation authority changed a certificate. Previously, aircraft in size category E could take-off and land for non-commercial MRO purposes and for storage. This assessment has now been revised so that now code E types can only land but not depart. 

The airport is currently challenging this decision in courts but doesn’t expect a decision until tomorrow (Oct 29). 

Aircraft Acquisitions 

The problems with the aircraft stored at Twente came to a head-on Monday (Oct 26) when the airline planned to conduct a transfer flight for one of the jumbos. The spokesperson revealed to Key.Aero that the carrier has sold five 747s to GE Aviation Materials, three of which are currently stuck at the Dutch airport with the remaining two on the ground at Lourdes Tarbes in the south of France. 

D-ABVP (seen here in 2015) was the first jet earmarked for delivery to GE Aviation Materials. Wikimedia Commons/Anna Zvereva

The six jets at Twente comprise D-ABTK (c/n 29871), D-ABTL (c/n 29872), D-ABVO (c/n 28086), D-ABVP (c/n 28284) and D-ABVS (c/n 28286) and D-ABVX (c/n 29868) while D-ABVT (c/n 28287) and D-ABVR (c/n 28285) are stored at the French facility. Of these, Victor Oscar, Victor Papa and Victor Sierra have been sold to GE Aviation Materials, along with the two jumbos stored in southern France. 

D-ABVT has been purchased by GE Aviation Materials and is also based at Twente. Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory

On Monday, Lufthansa planned to fly D-ABVP to Mojave Air and Space Port on a route that would see it stop at Frankfurt and Bangor International in the US state of Maine on the way. The carrier – which plans to fly one of the jumbos to the Californian facility each month – has postponed the movement of D-ABVP until further notice. 

The two French-based widebodies included in the sale were scheduled for movement in January and February next year. 

What now? 

It’s a tricky situation to be in because three of the six aircraft at Twente have been sold and now just need to be delivered. Once at Mojave, they’re due to be broken up for spare parts and following re-certification will go back into circulation via the used market – the airframes will be disassembled and recycled. 

Lufthansa took delivery of its first on March 9, 1970. Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory

There is reportedly a facility onsite that can do this work, but GE Aviation Materials wants to complete this process in the US, so they need to be flown there. While flying a 747-400 across the Atlantic isn’t cheap, it’s more cost-effective than scrapping the 747s in Europe and shipping components to GE Aviation Materials’ warehouses in the US. 

The Lufthansa spokesperson said the company was awaiting the decision of the court to plan its next steps, Key.Aero will keep you posted with all the developments.