Boeing 747 and Airbus A380: The last giant jets in the sky

TA lot of onlookers were standing at Narita Airport near Tokyo when a huge airplane from Europe floated in for the first time in spring 2019, painted in a funny turtle design. When the Japanese All Nippon Airlines (ANA) offered its first scheduled flight with this jet shortly afterwards, it was sold out in no time. The airline called its new A380 “Flying Honu”, named after an endangered sea turtle in Hawaii. The fans stood upside down, had themselves photographed in front of the giant plane before the first flight with A380 models or with turtle actors in kitschy costumes.

The Airbus A380, the largest airliner in the world, has always sparked enthusiasm among passengers and airplane fans, since its first flight with paying guests in 2007 with Singapore Airlines. ANA was the last of 15 airlines to get their A380 – that was just over a year ago.

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Where have all the planes gone to at the moment?

EIt is part of the new reality of aviation that more aircraft are on the ground than in the air. According to calculations by the consulting firm Cirium, 17,000 jets have been decommissioned in the wake of the Corona crisis. That corresponds to a good two thirds of all passenger aircraft. And it presents the airlines with unforeseen problems: Usually, half a million people are in the air at any time of the day or night, space for these aircraft was never provided on the ground. The Lufthansa Group alone is currently parking 580 of its 763 aircraft not only at its Frankfurt and Munich hubs, but also at BER, Cuxhaven / Nordholz Airport and the Dübendorf military airfield near Zurich.

“Criteria include parking fees and the on-site infrastructure for maintenance options,” says a spokeswoman. Because major European airports charge up to 250 euros per hour for parking an airplane. Lufthansa has therefore moved part of the fleet to Amman in Jordan and to Teruel Airport near Valencia. “With around 240 days of sunshine a year and little rainfall, the region is particularly well suited for the parking of aircraft.”

Aircraft cemeteries, the name of which does not necessarily indicate that they will be scrapped soon, are often located in desert regions not only for reasons of space – the largest is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona. The arid climate protects the machines from corrosion and water damage, the seclusion from theft and vandalism. This is also not cheap: To keep a Boeing 777 airworthy, for example, up to 300,000 euros a year are due.

Parking in the Australian outback

Singapore Airlines also removed its wide-bodied aircraft from warm, humid Singapore and moved them to the heart of the Australian outback in Alice Springs, where the former Deutsche Bank analyst Tom Vincent founded the “Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage” eleven years ago. The crisis-stricken Boeing 737 Max from Singapore subsidiary SilkAir has been here since 2019. “Depending on how long they are parked, the aircraft are serviced regularly to ensure that they remain operational. This includes washing the outside surfaces, lubricating the flight control and landing gear, and checking the tire pressure, ”says a spokesman for Singapore Airlines.

It is currently not possible to say when the planes will come back into service. For many Airbus A380s, this crisis could mean the premature end. It had already become apparent in the past year that numerous airlines are thinking about rapidly wiping out the models due to a lack of economic prospects. The Lufthansa A340-600 parked in Teruel also faces an uncertain future. You will not return to regular service for at least twelve to 18 months. According to experts, however, the jets should not be parked for longer than two years – otherwise they will soon only be used as spare parts stores.

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