Six Lufthansa 747s “Stuck” At Small Dutch Airport Now Allowed To Depart

Filed Under: Lufthansa

I recently wrote about how six Lufthansa Boeing 747-400s landed at a small airport in the Netherlands several months ago, but weren’t allowed to leave. Well, there’s now an update on that situation.

Lufthansa 747s parked at Twente Airport

Airlines around the globe have been putting planes into long-term storage, given the huge and sustained decrease in demand we’re seeing:

  • Some of the planes in storage will fly again, while others will be retired and may never carry passengers again
  • Regardless, a vast majority of planes taken out of service had to be flown somewhere, since there wasn’t enough room to keep them parked at major airports

Along those lines, between early June and late July, Lufthansa ferried six Boeing 747-400s to Enschede Twente Airport, in the Netherlands:

  • The airport has a nearly 8,000 foot runway, so 747s can easily land there
  • The airport doesn’t have any regularly scheduled service, and was one of the best options at the time for Lufthansa to store these jumbo jets
  • Lufthansa intends to scrap these 747s, and initially the plan was for that to be done at Twente Airport, given that there’s an aircraft scrapping firm based there (specifically, Aircraft End-Of-Life Solutions, or AELS)
  • These planes were all delivered to Lufthansa in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so they’re an average of around 20 years old
  • Lufthansa flew most 747-400s to Twente from Frankfurt (a short ~40 minute flight), though one 747-400 was flown straight from Beijing, as it had just come out of maintenance (a ~10 hour flight)

Why Lufthansa 747s weren’t allowed to leave the airport

Lufthansa is preparing to scrap these 747s, and had decided to do so elsewhere (not at Twente Airport), a move that the airport leadership respects. Recently Lufthansa hoped to have its 747s leave the airport, but there was one major problem — the planes weren’t allowed to take off from there, as reported by Tubantia.

A 747 was supposed to leave the airport on October 26, per Flightradar24

What happened? In a situation that the airport director calls “too absurd for words,” the Netherland’s Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate had allegedly issued an interim permit change that prevents 747s from taking off at the airport. In other words, 747s can land at the airport, but can’t take off from there.

Here’s how the airport director described the situation, per Google Translate:

“The planes came here because Twente is one of the few airports where there is still room to park such large planes. Of course we hoped to be able to dismantle them here as well, but the owners have decided otherwise. Now they have to leave shortly, three devices preferably this week. It is incomprehensible that there is a sudden blockage.

We are completely surprised. When those planes landed here, there was nothing wrong. And now suddenly there is a taboo on these kinds of large devices. That is crazy for words and we are certainly not going to accept that.”

Here’s how a spokesperson for the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate described the situation:

“Twente Airport simply does not have the correct safety certificate. Larger aircraft such as the Boeings can land at Twente, but only for dismantling. The airport infrastructure is not suitable for taking off larger and heavier aircraft. This can pose security risks. The flight procedures before departure have also not yet been approved.”

It’s not entirely clear what caused this policy change, since the airport suggests that 747s taking off wasn’t an issue in the past. Legal proceedings had been initiated to allow the 747 to leave, and there’s now a resolution.

One of the Lufthansa 747s in storage at Twente Airport

Lufthansa gets a “one time exception” for 747s

Twente Airport and Lufthansa have now received permission from Netherland’s Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate for the 747s to take off. The organization claims it’s against regulations but is safe, so a one-time exception will be made.

It’s expected that the first 747 will leave the airport shortly. The plane will be especially light, carrying just enough fuel to get to Frankfurt. The plane will be refueled there, and then will be flown to the US, where it will be scrapped. At least a few of the planes have been sold to GE Aviation Materials, which will recycle the parts.

Here’s a statement from the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate:

“Technology Base and the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate have consulted constructively in recent days to find a solution for the safe departure of the aircraft. Twente Airport clarifies some specifications of the safety protocols for this type of very large aircraft during the inspection. By complying with these types of safety requirements (including the use of the runway, aircraft must be light and carry little fuel), the ILT can issue a one-off exemption. Both parties agree that the current state of affairs cannot be repeated. Lufthansa aircraft can thus depart from Twente Airport. The first aircraft will leave shortly. Lufthansa is in talks with interested buyers for the devices. Three aircraft have already been sold and will leave before the turn of the year.”

Bottom line

Lufthansa has six 747-400s that have been in storage at a Dutch airport for several months now. While the planes were able to land there without issue, there were restrictions on the planes departing. This became a major problem, since some of the planes had already been sold for parts, and that required them being able to depart.

Fortunately a resolution has now been reached, and these 747s will be allowed to leave the airport thanks to an exception.

Strange situation, eh?

Comments
  1. Is this the case of AELS lobbying the local authority in an effort to not lose a potential “large order”? Did this rule change come prior to LF landing, and they were not aware of it, or did this occur after they arrived and are being held hostage?

  2. Again, Nice 1:1 copy and paste from the German website aerotelegraph?
    I thought plagiarism is a crime…

  3. @ Matsu — Huh?

    a) “Again?”
    b) I didn’t see the Aerotelegraph story, and I quoted my source
    c) I had written my post before the Aerotelegraph story was published, now that I look it up; it was published 17 minutes before my post, but I had completed my post over an hour prior to that
    d) Even if none of the above were true, how on earth is this a “1:1 copy and paste” of that story?

    If you’re going to accuse me of a “crime,” please try harder…

  4. What “security risk” is posed by allowing a plane to take off? Especially one containing no passengers and operated by a major airline.

  5. @snic – maybe in a non-secure airport facility? Crew security. Cabin search. External inspection. If there’s no vendor for any of this, then there’s a security risk.

  6. Guess they’re a stickler for rules… though it seems rather ridiculous you can be certified as an airport that can receive aircraft but not take off from there.

  7. I don’t speak Dutch, but in my native language (which is quite similar to Dutch) the word for safety and security is the same. This is probably related to safety (ie. possibility of danger to surrounding area), not security (ie danger of hijacking and the likes). Google translate has uses, but also limitations.

  8. This could easily be explained by Byzantine Dutch bureaucracy. I worked in the Netherlands for six months, applied for my work permit long before I got there, and it was issued the day after I completed my assignment and returned home.

  9. Great article. Just two important additions:
    – No aircraft of this size has ever taken off from the airport
    -The inspectorate informed airport management before that these planes would not be able to take off

    While I am sure the situation will be resolved, it is pretty bad PR for all parties involved.

    Greetings from The Netherlands!

  10. Moral of the story is that Lufthansa should have negotiated and papered their deal with AELS BEFORE moving the 747s to Twente. I’m sure AELS’ price was above market for the job but knew that they had Lufthansa over a barrel as soon as those planes landed. I’m sure the fact that the Dutch government would benefit from taxes and fees associated with AELS’ scrapping of these aircraft has been taken into consideration. COVID-19 has government’s starved for tax revenue and no politically acceptable way to raise taxes on their citizens has them looking anywhere and everywhere for funds.

  11. Having visited the ammunition bunkers there that , albiet going to ruin, still exist on the airport, as well as knowing it’s military origin (used by bombers as well as fighter aircraft) this gives all appearance of being bureaucracy run amuck. A takeoff to the SouthWest would avoid built-up areas, and a lightly loaded 747 needs less runway than smaller (munition carrying) bombers at their maximum tow..

  12. @DLPTATL:

    It’s 2020, for crying out loud. Millions of things have been done without all the paperwork being used as a weapon. Are you some petty do-nothing bureaucrat that is terrified someone might realize you contribute NOTHING to any process so you root for more red tape? People like you are both disgusting and the reason people are so upset with these sorts of games they support people like Trump.

  13. First, president Trump has nothing to do with this so don’t start that b.s.
    And Matsu, go play with yourself!
    The 747-400 can absolutely safely takeoff in less than 8,000ft for a ferry flight. Uses only 5 maybe 6,000 ft. Of runway to lift off and climb out safely. So this probably is some good ol dick shaking tsking place between govt. And aels.

  14. @snic
    In some languages, the word for “security” and “safety” is the same, or can be translated either way. I suspect this a Google Translate issue. The concern is actually for safety, as the article goes on to describe.

    Noise abatement could also be a concern since aircraft make more noise at full power departing than at low or idle on approach and landing.

  15. This certainly looks like a local government move to allow AELS, that is based in the Netherlands at Twente Airport, to get a substantial aircraft dismantling order that it may well have not received had this order not been in place? Maybe politics in the Netherlands is not that different than politics in the United States?

  16. I’m curious as to what security the aircraft have been under since parked. The safety being spoken of goes beyond takeoff performance limitations.
    While I acknowledge that there seems to be a political pony at play here and The Netherlands ins the land of ridiculous bureaucracy.. Its not as easy as lighting up the engines and taking off as some home pc pilots may suggest.
    Engine out routes… Noise considerations, aircraft security checks etc.. This will play out but may be cheaper to leave them right where they are.
    Everything is about money to all parties… Despite the cloak of safety they hide behind.

  17. It’s a good thing many of the commenter above are not widebody captains…

    Yep 8000 ft that should do it

    A safe departure goes beyond runway length only… One must ask have the aircraft been held securely… What maintenance is reqd pre departure.. What are the noise and or terrain issues… Granted in The Netherlands the latter is negligible.

    I’m sure like most things and given as stated the overall ridiculous level of micromanagement and bureaucracy in the Netherlands its more about money and crossing the Ts and dotting the Is.

    In the end probably cheaper for LF to just chop em down where they sit.

    The larger story is the death of 6 queen’s due to a plandemic that has unnecessarily halted global aviation.

  18. As Sept 11, 2001 proved the concept – any large plane can be used with great effect as a flying bomb.

    Unless the airfield has 24 hour armed security, fencing etc then of course there is a big difference to a plane landing there with minimal fuel vs an aircraft taking off with the full fuel load for the flight plus safety reserve.

    The time it would take, if say some group did gain access to the plane & take off, to detect an issue & then respond (make a decision with consequences) would in all likelihood be too late to stop the plane flying into some high profile target.

    Time (approx) from take-off to impact in:

    Amsterdam = about 20 minutes max
    The Hague = 23 minutes
    Brussels = 34 minutes
    Frankfurt = 40 minutes
    Paris = 55 minutes
    Berlin = 55 minutes

    Safety/security is never sufficient after the event.

  19. This is what happens when you have a society based on central planning instead of individual decisions and voluntary transactions.

  20. Unfortunate situation but I’m quite sure when the appropriate “funds” have been handed over it will be up up and away

  21. Wellington NZ used to be a 747-200 and 747-400 emergency diversion airport for Air NZ in the event AKL and CHC closed. Could accept any landing but not MTOW departure. Had no problems leaving for Auckland off the 6800’ runway with significantly more terrain issues than anywhere in the Netherlands

  22. Please do no allow one of those 747s take off during maintenance accidently, then it may need to hunt a different luchthaven.

  23. Why don’t they just fly them out and pay whatever fine is issued to them? If it’s more economically feasible to pay the other firm and the fine than to scrap them with AELS, just fly them out.
    Though I must say that it’s entertaining to watch two massively bureaucratic governments go back and forth over something so ridiculous – even if they still can’t acknowledge that their own innate thirst for control is what causes these kinds of complications in the first place.
    Popcorn, anyone?

  24. To summarize the Dutch article, The airport is going to get a one time exemption allowing these aircraft to take off. Has to be minimal weight, minimal fuel, several other conditions.

  25. Don’t tell Avatar Airlines about these planes!! Otherwise they could be planning making a joint venture with Lufthansa!

  26. @Eric – You couldn’t be more wrong about me or my comment. Hopefully you’re in a better mood today.

  27. @Englishder – Completely agree. Seems like someone has been adequately compensated to move things along now.

  28. Once again European tail wagging the dog bureaucrat law making at its best. Unelected officials feeling self important enforcers of some obscure or arcane regulation that vaguely applies now but for enough money can be waved for a one time event.

  29. Matsu, tell me where I can find your website with blogs about your passion. Is it goatlover.com? Or micropen.is?

  30. they said the runway was too short to take off. Don’t know but seems unlikely. Good that is solved now. The airport is in a rural location and not particular with enhanced security. Basically it’s only used for light aircrafts and maybe some private planes (small jets)

  31. Nothing odd about this except the airline decision making. All aircraft have minimum runway lengths for takeoff at various weights. These have built in safety margins in case takeoff needs to be rejected before liftoff, and it is illegal for anyone to use a shorter runway.

    All national aviation authorities will also give 1-time exemptions for rules where adequate alternative means of compliance are available – and some times where they are not but there is a decision taken to accept an increased risk.

    In this case the planes had minimum fuel as mentioned. But they would also have had anything not required and carry only 2 crew, making them as light as possible. So they would have had non-standard takeoff speed and distance required.

    It would have been an interesting exercise for the performance engineers involved.

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