Lufthansa and the 777 - finally?


That Lufthansa would order many more A320NEOs, in fact 70, should not be a surprise to anyone. The carrier had already placed an order for 30 two years ago and given its approach to buying several batches of aircraft instead of going for one huge deal, more orders were expected to come.

The most interesting part of Lufthansa’s 108 aircraft commitment revealed this week was the deal for six 777-300ERs. The aircraft will not be operated by the German airline itself, but by its subsidiary Swiss. It is still significant in several ways. The 777-300ER is a big aircraft for the Swiss market, particularly since it is replacing mainly Airbus A340-300s. But Swiss wants to grow long-haul capacity and the -300ER looks like an ideal way to do that while at the same time reducing unit costs.

There are now three 777 operators in the Lufthansa Group: Swiss, Austrian and cargo affiliate Aerologic. And while Lufthansa itself has never operated the aircraft, most inside the airline acknowledge by now that having gone for the A340-300/600 has been a huge mistake. The aircraft is simply too expensive to operate. Yes, one might argue that at the time orders were placed fuel prices were different. But it was already clear back then that twin wide-bodies were going to be the way to go.

That Swiss and Austrian now operate the 777 (Austrian inherited six 777-200ERs when it took over Lauda Air and still flies them), may only be the first step.

Lufthansa plans to finally decide on how to replace the A340s (-300s and -600s) as well as part of the 747-400 fleet before the end of this year. With the A350 not available in any significant numbers for several years, the 777 could be a very real alternative for the airline. Lufthansa has already more or less ruled out the 787 as being too small, at least as long as the -10 is not launched.

The irony of a potential 777X order of course would be that the aircraft would likely not only replace the 747-400 and the A340s, but also the 747-8, which was largely built because Lufthansa absolutely wanted it. The proposed 777-9X looks like it will come relatively close to the 747-8 in size. And unlike Emirates or Qatar Airways, European carriers have very few very long routes, so range should not be an issue anyway. In that sense, a Lufthansa order for the 777X could very well signal the end of the 747 after a production run spanning around 50 years. That is, of course, if Boeing isn’t able to get massive new orders elsewhere in the coming years.

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