Lufthansa considers 787 and reveals 777X plans

by Andreas Spaeth
December 02, 2018
Boeing 777
Lufthansa Boeing 777X

Lufthansa Group is considering ordering the Boeing 787 to complement its long-haul fleet according to its CEO Carsten Spohr.

“The Boeing 787 would be an alternative to ordering more A350s, for which we still have options”, said Spohr in an exclusive interview with on the sidelines of a conference organized by CAPA this week in Berlin.

“Both the A350 as well as the 787 are very well suited for thinner routes from our mega hubs, but also for our smaller hubs.”

The Lufthansa Group operates four hubs, Frankfurt and Munich in Germany as well as Zurich in Switzerland and Vienna in Austria. Some also count the Belgian capital Brussels as well, where Brussels Airlines is based, another carrier owned by Lufthansa.

“We would not operate A350s and 787s side by side at the same hub, but possibly both aircraft at different hubs”, stressed Spohr.

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“The decision on if we will order further A350s or 787s for the first time will be taken in the coming months.”

Lufthansa Group is currently in negotiations with both Boeing and Airbus about further orders for long-haul aircraft. Lufthansa has already 20 Boeing 777-9s on order, the first seven of which will be delivered in late 2020, and the airline holds options for 14 further 777-9s. “These options are also part of our negotiations”, explains Spohr.

Lufthansa European Editor Andreas Spaeth with Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr in Berlin.

It has not been clarified where the Boeing 777s will be stationed within the Lufthansa network. “At least for the first seven aircraft to be delivered in 2020 it will be either Frankfurt or Munich”, confirms Spohr.

This first batch of 777s will be delivered without a First Class section, “because they will replace elderly aircraft that also don’t have a First Class cabin”, says Spohr.

“In general, we want to keep the share of First Class-equipped aircraft in Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet at the current 50 percent. ” Meaning that probably in 2021, Lufthansa will unveil a new First Class product, which highly likely will be providing much more privacy than the open current one.

All new 777s will have the new Business Class product on board, which for the first time will provide individual compartments for Lufthansa Business passengers, rather than the very conventional 2-2-2 seat layout in all current aircraft.

It has not yet been decided which older aircraft the incoming 777s will replace. “This decision will also be taken in the European spring of 2019”, announces Spohr. “If we want to grow more, we will replace smaller aircraft such as the Airbus A340-300s, but if we decide to want to grow less we let the 777s replace the current 747-400s.”

In general, all Lufthansa aircraft orders are for the group as a whole. “We take orders as a kind of ‘grey fleet’ where we only decide 18 months prior to delivery which airline gets new aircraft allocated”, explains the Lufthansa CEO.

While Austrian Airlines currently isn’t considered to be profitable enough to warrant investments in new aircraft, a solution has been found for Brussels Airlines.  “We have decided that second-hand A330s will replace some very old A330s, newer aircraft we leased will be arriving at Brussels Airlines in the next months.”

Lufthansa is a major customer for the A350 but also sees a roll for its arch-rival the 787 in its operations.

Lufthansa as most European carriers has experienced a very bad summer of extensive flight delays. “Until October 1st we have amassed delays of a total of 16.9 million minutes, almost double as much as in 2017”, said Spohr.

Lufthansa alone had to cancel 18,000 flights in the year 2018 up until October, “equalling a two-week closure of our most important hub Frankfurt.” The underlying problem is the fragmentation of European airspace, especially unions of air traffic controllers all around Europa who are reluctant to give up national privileges, which would be necessary to create a more efficient Single European Sky, propagated by airlines and politics for decades.

Besides ATC there were many specific factors that played a role at Lufthansa. “The takeover of Air Berlin was a huge historical chance for us, but also an enormous challenge”, stressed Spohr.  “We had to integrate Air Berlin aircraft from 15 different leasing firms, where we first had to translate technical logbooks from other languages, an unbelievable bureaucracy.” Further complications were added by problems with new Airbus A320neo aircraft: “We only got half as many as intended and currently they fly only half as much every day as the should”, concedes Spohr.

Especially vulnerable to all these burdens was Lufthansa’s low-cost arm Eurowings, facing huge problems with delays and cancellations in the peak summer season. “Eurowings has doubled in size over the last two years, it is now the third-largest European point-to-point airline behind Ryanair and EasyJet”, states Spohr.

“For me, summer 2019 will be year one of a new normality at Eurowings, our focus is on three priorities: Operational stability, getting back into the black and creating a team spirit among the workforce.” Still, Spohr is skeptical about next summer. “It will be better than 2018, but not as good as I would like it to be.”

Lufthansa has taken many measures to try to prevent another chaotic summer. “We hire 800 employees just to stabilize flight operations, we have ordered six extra Airbus A320ceos, as only these can be delivered fast enough to fill gaps next summer. We will also keep a double-digit number of backup aircraft taken from our existing fleet ready at our hubs in Düsseldorf for Eurowings as well as in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich.”

But Spohr is still bothered. “It is my great fear that we have planned a greater number of flights in German airspace than the current infrastructure can take. But the German government has at least assured us that the number of flights at the biggest German airports will not increase, despite the attempt by some airports to still put more flights through.”