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KLM, Qantas Reportedly Flying Final 747 Flights This Weekend
The global COVID-19 crisis has impacted aviation profoundly as airlines quickly adapt to crippling demand for air travel and a new reality of border restrictions, grounded jets and seeing sub 20 percent flight load factors. Over 85 airlines across the globe have announced a temporary halt in flight operations and almost all carriers are working to quickly downsize their fleet in an effort to run more efficient operations.
When looking at which aircraft to ground, the older, less fuel-efficient aircraft are always first on the list. American Airlines was quick to announce an accelerated retirement of its Boeing 757 and 767 fleet two weeks ago when airlines began responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Queen of the Skies was also quick to become a victim of the virus as well due to its passenger capacity, age and lackluster fuel efficiency levels compared to the newer Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. Multiple reports suggest that this weekend will mark the final passenger flights of the Boeing 747-400 for both KLM and Qantas. Both airlines have had to vastly reduce capacity in an effort to adapt to the dynamic situation the coronavirus has created for the aviation industry.
KLM initially expected to fly its final passenger 747 flight between New York-JFK and Amsterdam on Jan. 3, 2021. That date, however, has been brought forward over eight months with the final flight expected to touchdown at Amsterdam Schiphol on Sunday, March 29.
KLM flight 686 is scheduled to depart from Mexico City at 9:55 p.m. and touchdown at Schiphol the following day at 3:10 p.m. local time. According to Flightradar24, PH-BFT will perform this flight. PH-BFT is one of KLM’s 747-400M (Combi) aircraft which offers additional cargo space in the rear section of what would be the passenger cabin.
The Loadstar published an open letter to Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith and KLM President Peter Elbers urging the airline to continue operating the 747-400M for critical cargo flights. KLM currently has two 747-400 and five 747-400 Combi in the fleet. It is unclear at this time if the 747-400M fleet will continue cargo operations after this weekend.
The airline’s cargo division also operates three 747-400F variants. These three aircraft are not expected to be grounded.
The world’s oldest airline has been flying the 747 for almost 50 years after its first flight with the carrier in 1971. Throughout its history, it has operated the 747-200, 747-200M, 747-200SUD (Stretched Upper Deck) and 747-300M. KLM is also the last airline in the world still operating the 747-400M. KLM’s 747 fleet average age sits at 22.2 years, almost twice the carrier’s total age average across all fleet types.
Amsterdam-based KLM has also grounded its entire Airbus A330 fleet. The 13 aircraft will be parked for six weeks, but their return to service has been undecided at this time.
KLM did not respond to request for comment at the time of publishing.
Qantas is also expected to stop flying the 747-400 after this weekend. VH-OEH, one of the carrier’s final five 747s performed a flyover of the Sydney Harbor before touching down at Sydney International Airport on March 26.
VH-OEE is expected to make the fleet’s final passenger flight when it departs Santiago, Chile and arrives in Sydney on March 28. Flight QF28 is expected to arrive at 5:50 p.m. local time.
The airline is in the process of winding down its international operations as it plans to suspend all international flights until at least the end of May per recommendations from Australia’s federal government. Qantas has decided to ground its entire A380 and 747 fleets as a result.
While the airline is expected to resume A380 operations in September, the 747s future has been called into question. Qantas originally planned to phase out the aircraft type from its fleet by the end of 2020.
Sources close to Qantas report that the final five aircraft were sold to GE Aviation on March 27. This is not the first time a former Qantas 747 found life with a new owner. In 2019, AirlineGeeks joined Qantas onboard the final flight of VH-OJE, a 747-400 which was transferred to Rolls Royce. Neither Qantas or GE Aviation were available to comment on this.
In addition to the 747-400, Qantas has also flown the 747-200, 747SP and 747-300 throughout its history.
Qantas told AirlineGeeks in a statement that the 747 may still be used for government rescue flights but did not confirm whether or not the 747s will continue flying after the crisis concludes.
Despite the unexpected retirements from Qantas and KLM, the 747 is expected to continue gracing the skies for a few more years. Lufthansa and Korean Air are expected to operate the newer 747-8I for years to come, with no planned retirements yet.
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