Lufthansa Cargo plans to phase out two of its MD-11s next year in an effort to limit capacity growth.
“We don’t see at the moment how we can grow profitably using two additional freighters,” CEO Karl-Ulrich Garnadt said in an interview.
The decision is bad news for the cargo industry as it signals that one of its most prominent players does not believe the sector will recover soon.
The airline is taking delivery of its first Boeing 777F in October and its second in November. Lufthansa Cargo had not indicated whether it would use the aircraft for replacement or growth; now it has given its answer.
The carrier currently operates 18 MD-11Fs. While it has not grounded any aircraft during the past two years of weak cargo demand, it has reduced utilization across the fleet. It is now flying the equivalent of only 16 aircraft.
Lufthansa Cargo’s MD-11 fleet is made up of 18 aircraft, but there are three sub-fleets. It has ordered 14 directly from Boeing, the last MD-11s produced and delivered between 1998 and 2001. The airline also operates two ex-VASP/Varig and two ex-Alitalia aircraft. The two ex-Alitalia aircraft (D-ALCR and D-ALCS) are now being sold. They were originally delivered to the Italian airline as passenger aircraft in 1994 and were converted to freighters in 2004. Lufthansa Cargo says maintenance costs for the two are higher than for the rest of the fleet and they also have some operational limits because of the smaller cargo doors on the lower deck. Company officials say the aircraft will likely be sold for spares rather than to another operator.
Lufthansa Cargo has not given a timeline for further MD-11 retirements, and says it will continue to operate the fleet for several years. However, there is some uncertainty around the future all-cargo fleet since the carrier has only placed orders for five 777Fs. Traditionally, the airline has carried around 50% of its freight in dedicated cargo aircraft and the other half as belly freight on board Lufthansa’s passenger aircraft. Should the market continue to be weak, that balance could start to shift.