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Lufthansa cuts fleet, says passengers won’t come back for YEARS. What could this mean for BA?

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Lufthansa Group, which includes Austrian Airlines, SWISS, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings and Germanwings, has decided that a permanent restructuring is necessary in order to meet the suppressed demand for air travel in the next few years.  The airline is currently flying just six long haul routes.

Crucially, it believes that it will take “years until the worldwide demand for air travel returns to pre-crisis levels.”  In order to ensure the company’s long term survival it has decided to undergo significant capacity reduction.

In total, Lufthansa Group is getting rid of over 70 aircraft.  At Lufthansa, six of its 14 A380s are being retired immediately. These were originally due to be returned to Airbus in 2022.

Lufthansa to retire six A380 aircraft

A further five Boeing 747-400s and seven A340-600s are also being removed from the fleet.  This equates to a 10% capacity reduction in long-haul flying for Lufthansa itself.

The airline is shedding its most inefficient aircraft first – older A340s (on average 14 years old) and Boeing 747s (with an average age of 21 years), both of which are four engined aircraft.  Its fleet of fuel efficient A350s is unaffected.

11 A320 short haul aircraft will also be removed, accounting for just over 5% of the A320 fleet.

Lufthansa Cityline is withdrawing three A340-300s from service whilst the Eurowings fleet will reduce by 10 A320s.  SWISS will be delaying the arrival of its new aircraft orders.

A further 30 wet-leased aircraft will be returned to lessors. Germanwings, which previously flew 15 short haul aircraft for Eurowings, will be shuttered completely.

Should British Ariways cut capacity sharply after coronavirus?

What does this mean for British Airways?

With a combined fleet of 763 aircraft, Lufthansa Group is larger than British Airways owner IAG, which has a fleet of 570.  Lufthansa is also the first of the three large European airline groups to announce permanent changes to its fleet.

It is highly likely that we will see both IAG and Air France KLM follow suit.

If IAG follows Lufthansa’s 10% capacity reduction we can expect it to shed around 55 aircraft across BA, Iberia, Aer Lingus, LEVEL and Vueling.  The obvious thing to do is remove old and inefficient aircraft from the fleet.  Whilst fuel prices are currently low, masking their inefficiency, this is unlikely to be a long term benefit.  Older aircraft also require additional maintenance.

At British Airways, the obvious move is to bring forward the retirement of the Boeing 747 fleet.  Originally due to be retired by 2024, the average age of the fleet is 23 years.  These aircraft are fully depreciated.

At Iberia, the same can be said for its A340 fleet. Although younger than BA’s Boeing 747s, the A340s are inefficient with their four engines.

Short haul is easier to trim as you are looking at a focused fleet of A319, A320 and A321 aircraft which can easily be picked up by other airlines.  British Airways is currently in the midst of a steady fleet renewal program.  By ditching a greater number of older aircraft today than originally planned it can quickly reduce the fleet in the short term in the knowledge that a steady stream of new aircraft are on order to rebuild it in a few years’ time.

What about IAG’s Boeing 737MAX order?

You may remember IAG’s surprise Boeing 737MAX order last year in the midst of the MAX crisis. The ‘letter of intent’ (not, legally, a firm order) was for 200 aircraft with delivery slots from 2023-2027.

Whilst it wasn’t clear at the time whether IAG actually intended to turn these options into firm orders or simply use it to negotiate with Airbus, the future of this order is clearly uncertain.

Having said that, 2023 is far enough away that (touch wood) air travel will have rebounded to its pre-pandemic levels.  By reducing the fleet in the short term IAG may actually be in need of these aircraft.

For the very brave, there is another game to be played.  There are 400 Boeing 737MAX aircraft sitting, finished.  A large proportion of these will now never be delivered to their original customer.  A savvy operator – admittedly more likely to be Ryanair than IAG – could offer to buy 100 for, say, $25 million each and retire an equivalent number of older aircraft.  It would be a transformative deal if the capacity could be used.

Will British Airways ever return to Heathrow Terminal 3?

Fewer aircraft means fewer flights and less of a need for additional airport capacity.  Whilst British Airways was running a significant number of flights from both Heathrow Terminal 3 and Gatwick, we might see it pull out completely of one or the other.

The obvious choice is to withdraw from Heathrow Terminal 3 and consolidate at Terminal 5, enabling improved connections for all flights. However, there have also been rumours of American Airlines moving in to Terminal 5 with British Airways.  It is unlikely that BA will cut capacity so far that both of these things could happen.

Gatwick is a different story.  British Airways currently has 14 Boeing 777 based at Gatwick in a denser, less premium-heavy configuration. As these aircraft have all been recently refurbished (albeit with the legacy Club World seat and not Club Suite) we are unlikely to see any of these aircraft retire early.

We might, however, see some move over to Heathrow. BA’s operations at Gatwick are far less reliant on business travel and are dependent on the pick-up of leisure traffic.

It is impossible to predict how quickly people will start booking travel again but if there is a significant reduction in holiday bookings we can expect fewer flights from Gatwick.

The future is uncertain

We are currently in uncertain times. Nobody knows when travel restrictions will be lifted or how passengers will respond once we are free to fly again.  Even if passengers want to fly, we don’t know how quickly countries will start accepting tourists again – with BA particularly dependent on the US.  The refusal of travel insurers to cover coronavirus could also keep many people at home.

Lufthansa thinks it will take years for air traffic to peak again.  It’s not clear whether British Airways agrees, but if it does we are likely to see some aggressive reshaping of its fleet.


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Comments (164)

  • Mel says:

    OT – SOS! Upon hearing the news about Bonvoy, I signed in to check my status and everything has been wiped clean from my account – can anyone check if theirs is the same?

    I had 72k points (inactivity period 1 year) and gold member status that was due to expire in February but I haven’t checked in a few months.

    • Sam says:

      Ok here. Anything enlightening in account activity?

      • Mel says:

        There is nothing under account activity, that’s the strange thing, not a single thing. I used to have a spg account and im pretty sure mine was merged already because in January I logged into Marriott to check for redemption rates and it was still at 72k, and I was still a Gold member.

        The confusing thing is the email/member number thing. I thought I had always logged in with my email but according to an email sent by Marriott during the merger I “login with my new member number”

        • TGLoyalty says:

          The merge happened in late 2018 are you sure you had points activity in the past 24 months?

          • Mel says:

            Yes. I last purchased points on 31 May 2018. In any case, my points expiry should still show in my account no? But my activities tab has nothing at all.

  • Ken says:

    If Lufthansa are correct, what on earth would be the point of bailing Virgin out?

    Feels like we would be giving them a help to survive while BA reduce capacity and jobs.

    If you want competition let someone else have the Heathrow slots.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Lufthansa are accelerating moves they were already planning to make, 10% cut in fleet doesn’t sound like a major cull to me.

    • J says:

      Lufthansa have a near monopoly in the German market so they can’t go wrong (even if they’re wrong about subsequent demand, it’ll just result in less choice and more connections for passengers)

  • Mike says:

    I think there is some pent-up demand for travel, but I suspect it’s going to be Russian Roulette as to whether international borders are open, closed, forced quarantine, etc. Travellers are now bringing CV back to China, Singapore which thought they had a lid on it is now having trouble again…

    In some parts of the world I’m hearing of travellers being chased out of town by locals who think they’re bringing the plague.

    And then there’s the risk from being stuck in a tin can with 400 other folks for 12 hours breathing the same air.

    How can anyone book travel when there’s a strong possibility your trip is going to be blocked by the government, or you find yourself being evicted from the country at short notice? Airlines are going to have to come up with a new way of working to have any demand at all, e.g.

    1. free date changes and refunds on all tickets up to departure
    2. honouring return legs (or paying for rerouting) once you have flown the outbound – no more stranding passengers half way around the world
    3. decreased passenger densities in economy in particular

  • The Lord says:

    What do we reckon, Q3 domestic travel/travel within Europe opens up? Q4 international routes return to some form of normality?

    • Rob says:

      BA is still running some European flights even now. EHIC cards plus EU freedom of movement rules mean no insurance issues, no access issues and a decent healthcare system wherever you go so this could come back quickly. I anticipate we’ll end up in Spain / Portugal / Italy during July / August.

      Other countries are trickier – lack of insurance, potential ongoing rules re quarantine on arrival, lack of comfort in the local healthcare system etc. I am fairly confident so far that our October Middle East jaunt will happen but I am less sure I will get to the US this year. That said, if it was a 3-4 day trip I would be fairly confident I could get out of the country if I started falling ill and before the £5k per day health bill kicked in ….

      • Jon says:

        Rob it is extremely irresponsible to suggest traveling whilst unwell (or starting to be unwell) in the current climate. I hope you would not travel whilst unwell (regardless of the cost/day), given you would likely infect many people whilst traveling.
        Many travel insurances will still cover health issues, just not cancellations due to coronavirus as this is now a known event.

        • jamie says:

          I don’t think he did

          • Jon says:

            “ That said, if it was a 3-4 day trip I would be fairly confident I could get out of the country if I started falling ill and before the £5k per day health bill kicked in ….”
            Definitely suggested it as an option.

        • MattB says:

          Its pretty clear he meant get out if he fell ill whilst travelling

          • Kev 85 says:

            That’s still travelling whilst unwell and potentially infecting other people on the plane who could then infect their families etc

      • Sideshow bob says:

        EHIC cards are NOT a substitute for travel insurance! It will not get you home if you fall ill overseas.

        • Rob says:

          I know. But no insurance you buy now will cover you for CV, and an EHIC card giving you free local treatment is a lot more attractive than finding yourself having to pay a private hospital elsewhere, especially the US.

          • Sideshow bob says:

            Not quite right by you.

            Some insurers are still providing coronavirus medical cover (not travel disruption). E.g. AXA.

          • ChrisC says:

            EHIC does not give you free treatment. It gives you the same treatment as a national of the country you are visiting.

            If you have to pay to visit a doctor, for an x-ray, drugs etc as a local then you pay them even with an EHIC.

            https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/healthcare-abroad/apply-for-a-free-ehic-european-health-insurance-card/

            “In some countries, patients are expected to directly contribute a percentage towards the cost of their state-provided treatment. This is known as a patient co-payment.

            If you receive treatment under this type of healthcare system, you’re expected to pay the same co-payment charge as a patient from that country.”

          • Lady London says:

            Didn’t someone say the Amex Plat insurance still includes CV? So would you be ok for a trip to US?

          • Rob says:

            Amex has said it will pay, although the policy is very weak on these things.

      • Nick G says:

        Rob

        Try the Conrad algarve. Cracking hotel

    • Kev 85 says:

      I think domestic holidays will be reasonably popular for the rest of this year (once lockdowns are eased/scaled back etc)

      • Fenny says:

        Seems like I’m going to be holidaying on my allotment this year. If I can’t get anything to plant on it, I’ll have loads of time for sunbathing.

    • Bagoly says:

      I cannot see the hospitality business, let alone airlines, starting to return to normal until there is one of:
      a) an effective vaccine
      b) an effective drug treatment
      c) an antibody test to show that one has had it, even if without symptoms, or will never get it.
      d) almost everybody has had it

      If the number of people with inherent resistance is say 50%, then governments will presumably want to keep death rate down by continued lockdown – in the UK to say 1000 per day, which suggests (60M * 50% * 1% ) / 500 = 300 days.
      Vaccine time seems to be guessed at 360-540 days.
      Drug treatment – who knows – we have never found anything reliable for ‘flu but biology has advanced enormously in recent decades and everybody really wants it.
      Antibody test – seems most likely to happen soonest, but how well will countries accept paperwork from other countries for it?

      If none of a, b, or c happen, then what will be very interesting is what happens when d) has been reached in some countries but not others.
      This would seem most likely to happen in poor countries, who could be “done” in three months but at the cost of some pretty grim short-term scenes.

  • Peter K says:

    If they have the money I think a lot of casual consumers will go flying again for holidays. Many had their Thomas Cook hols cancelled, then their hols cancelled by coronavirus, plus having to stay indoors. They’ll be desperate to get away.

    • Rob says:

      Insurance is key though. EHIC would cover European trips (for now) but would you go to the US knowing you were uninsured against coranavirus?

      • james says:

        I’m looking at using VA miles for a trip to US in October, if things aren’t back to reasonable normal by then we are gonna be in bigger trouble than the virus is causing.

        Humans have a propensity to slip back into old ways quite quickly, all this talk of a new normal is deluded, 9/11 is an example that you would have expected to affect air travel more, but other than still having to put your toiletries in a clear plastic bag for some reason?….

        • The Lord says:

          Agreed, also booked for early Oct to US. Fingers crossed

        • jc says:

          It took 3 years for passenger numbers to return to pre-9/11 levels. Maybe not a “new normal”, but it had quite an effect. I actually see the impact here being larger for a number of reasons which I can dig into if people are interested.

          • jc says:

            I agree that people will bounce back to the old ways eventually, once allowed. We won’t see a permanent lack of international tourism. Just pointing out that people did stop travelling after 9/11.

    • Paul Pogba says:

      Lots of casual travellers will be losing their jobs (or facing pay cuts) so more than one holiday a year will be a thing of the past for many for the foreseeable future. I’m also fairly convinced many countries will sacrifice their tourism industry to preserve the rest of the economy and keep the borders shut too.

      What people want and what they’ll get are two different things.

      • Rob says:

        Shutting your borders doesn’t work though, unless you believe the rate of infection in other countries is higher than in your own. It is a political gesture. I can see a stage where you might have to do a finger-prick blood test at Heathrow to get a stamp to allow you to travel, however.

        • Kev 85 says:

          “ It is a political gesture”

          Those have become more common in recent years haven’t they?

        • Mikeact says:

          So, you’d have to get to the airport even earlier for your pin prick?.
          Maybe your inoculation record wil have to be brought back as part of passport / travel requirements…..mine still shows the many shots I’ve had for various horrible things over the years.

          • meta says:

            It can be easily implemented internationally through the existing system of yellow cards. I can even see this being done at Boots in the same way you get yellow fever inoculation. No need to do it at the airport.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        The economies of many countries rely on international trade.

        This virus is NOT going away

        • Gary says:

          Of course it is not going away, we have many many strains of corona virus in our bodies. We will adapt and move on as we have with others like SARS and H5N1. Funny how everyone has become a health and medical expert on these travel forums.

  • Mark says:

    I think a lot will depend on what happens to Virgin Atlantic. If it disappears, BA will benefit and may get away with retaining most of its capacity.

    If not, they will still want to protect the Heathrow slots whether that means movement of services from Gatwick or the reintroduction of slot sitting short haul services. If the latter the short haul fleet numbers would need to increase in the short term, with a likely slow down in A319 retirements.

  • Dermot says:

    What effect will all this have on prices? Will a reduction in competition lead to higher prices, or will over capacity and low demand lead to price reductions?

    I’m no economist and I appreciate there are large degrees of uncertainty, but does anyone have view?

  • southlondonphil says:

    Germanwings will shut (or be shut down)

    ‘Shutter’ as a verb is a nasty Americanism that has no place in ‘proper’ English

    • Paul Pogba says:

      When the BBC has adopted Americanism like morgue (mortuary), apartment (flat), truck (lorry) there probably isn’t much hope for our own vocabulary.

      • RussellH says:

        Apartment is (or was) a perfectly good Scots word in the 1980s at least, albeit with a very different meaning from the American.
        I bought a three apartment flat in 1981 – ie a living room and 2 bedrooms, plus kitchen + bathroom.
        Someone else will have to advise as to whether this usage is still current!
        As to truck/lorry, here we call them wagons.

        • Andrew says:

          Definitely used in Scotland from the 18th century onwards to refer to rooms within a tenement block. Depending on where you lived, until quite recently, villas for sale tended to have the phrase describing the number of main rooms as “apartments”.

          Everytime someone whines about “Americanisms” it’s easy to enough to find a source where the term was used in the 17th-19th century in the UK.

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