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Four-engined widebody aircraft: on a flight path to nowhere

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Lufthansa is reportedly considering retiring its remaining A380s and Boeing 747-400s, and most of its A340s. It had already planned to retire six A380s and to base the remaining eight at Munich, rather than at its biggest hub, Frankfurt.

Currently, all of Lufthansa's 14 A380s and its 11 747-400s, together with eight of its 19 747-8s and 28 of its 37 A340 variants, are grounded, according to the CAPA Fleet Database.

Lufthansa's pondering reflects questions being asked in airline boardrooms globally about the future of four-engined widebodies. At the depths of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of four-engined numbers widebodies in service worldwide was down by 55% versus 1-Jan-2020 (compared with -48% for all widebodies), and at 15-Sep-2020 is still down by 48% (-32% for all widebodies).

These figures mask a sharp divide between the two manufacturers: 64% of Boeing four-engined widebodies are now in service (boosted by freighter variants), versus just 17% for Airbus.

It is often said that crises only accelerate trends that were happening anyway. The current pandemic may well accelerate the consignment of four-engined widebodies to the history books.

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