An Empty Lufthansa A340 Has Caught Fire At Frankfurt Airport

Filed Under: Lufthansa

File this one under ‘close call.’

This morning at approximately 8AM at Germany’s Frankfurt Airport, an empty Lufthansa A340-300 was being towed around the airport, in preparation for operating flight LH426, from Frankfurt to Philadelphia on behalf of Lufthansa CityLine. Presumably the aircraft was being towed to the gate for passengers to then board the flight, but details are still vague at this early stage. The plane had landed an hour earlier from Atlanta as LH445.

This flight to Philadelphia is scheduled to leave daily at 13:10.

This aircraft has the special (and I personally think pretty ugly) Star Alliance livery, with registration D-AIFA, and is named after the German city of Dorsten.

Lufthansa A340 ‘City of Dorsten’ in Star Alliance Livery (Source:

The tow truck towing the empty aircraft caught fire, causing ‘heavy fire damage’ to the nose of the aircraft.

Lufthansa A340 at Frankfurt Airport (Source: Twitter)

Bloomberg is reporting that a spokesperson for Lufthansa has advised that 10 people, including ground crew and fire brigade staff have been taken to hospitals for smoke inhalation.

Lufthansa A340 at Frankfurt Airport (Source: Twitter @JacdecNew)
Lufthansa A340 at Frankfurt Airport (Source: Twitter @JacdecNew)
Lufthansa A340 at Frankfurt Airport (Source: Twitter @JacdecNew)

As this aircraft is around 20 years old, there is a good chance it will be immediately retired, rather than repaired so it can be returned to service.

Fortunately, as this happened at Lufthansa’s major hub, and was several hours before the flight departed, a replacement A340-300 aircraft could quickly be sourced. The flight still departed around 85 minutes late, however this is more likely due to the fact that the replacement aircraft was delayed landing from San Jose, and was then turned around to operate the Philadelphia flight as quickly as possible.

Bottom line

While of course it is awful when anyone in injured in any aviation accident, and I hope all make a speedy recovery, it seems that none of the injuries were serious, and this could have been far worse if the plane has been filled with 300+ passengers and crew.

Do you think this aircraft will be repaired, or retired?

  1. That’s a write-off. Guaranteed. This is why you have insurance. LH could source a second hand A340-300 if they needed it for far less than it would cost to repair it. Ground tug is also probably a write-off.

  2. I presume It wouldn’t be classified as an accident, given the circumstances. Sometimes airlines make decisions to repair rather than scrap based on a desire to avoid classification as a hull loss…eg, the Qantas crash landing at DMK; the 747 was a write-off but Qantas paid more in repairs than the replacement cost in order to avoid being tainted by a hull loss accident.
    The 340s are pretty worthless; Thai has had 5 parked at BKK for the best part of a decade, unable to sell them.

  3. I was surprised to learn that the Southwest plane involved in the fatal accident in April was back in service less than a month later. This one probably not. I’ve seen this particular plane with the Star Alliance livery parked at PHL many times and the livery looks better on close examination.

  4. I too think it’s Coke can time for this plane, particularly since the fire occurred under the cockpit where lots of rather important bits of equipment are. Probably much cheaper to just buy a second hand A340 if need be.

    One thing I’m wondering about though is how and where they’ll scrap this plane. Often when a plane is retired it’s taken to a graveyard in the American desert, but if this plane is unflyable, then that option is unavailable. Will they just start dismantling it at FRA instead? Presumably it won’t be brought back into service, so preserving it in a desert environment isn’t a concern.

  5. If you’re asking whether or not this plane will be restored or retired I would question your logic. The answer is obvious.

  6. The only reason not to scrap this plane would be semantics, assuming that there’s heat damage along with smoke damage. LH are probably excited to get the insurance money, since it’s probably more than they’d get trying to “sell” the plane, even for scrap.

  7. I landed at FRA this morning around 0845am from SEA. I didn’t see or notice anything about this incident. Kudos to the airport for keeping it running smoothly.

  8. Very misleading headline. The tow vehicle caught fire igniting the aircraft. The aircraft did not catch fire – there we no defect in the aircraft as the headline implies.

  9. @fr – agreed, glad this was not a plane issue, that never instills confidence in an aircraft type.

  10. It cannot be operating LH 426 on behalf of ‘Lufthansa City Line’ since that is part of Lufthansa Regional and it only owns Embraer 190, 195 and CRJ 900…. where did you get that from…?

  11. @Ryan They repaired the BA T7 that burned at LAS. They may repair it to make their statistics look better.

    @JD: Lufthansa City Line operates A340. Called “Jump” and supposed to be cheaper than having the plane operated by Lufthansa mainline staff.

  12. I’ve always wondered what the Star Alliance branded planes are for and who owns and flies them. Is it only LH? Can anyone elaborate?

  13. If the plane was filled with 300+ passengers, it wouldn’t be getting a tow to the gate. A moot point I think.

  14. Does anyone have insight into Lufthansa Group economics and how they are able to afford operating such a large fleet of four-engine aircraft? Airlines all over are moving to twin-engine aircraft, retiring four-engine aircraft as quickly as possible (especially the A340–like Thai, electing to park theirs at BKK rather than operate them as @Paolo mentions).

    Yet LH Group, between Lufthansa and Swiss, has such a large fleet of A340s, A380s, and 747s (old and new), with at least the A380s and 748s bound to remain in the fleet long-term. How are they able to make the economics work?

  15. Unfortunate event with the nose heat/smoke damage made worse by the type of tug – ‘lift (the nosegear) and shift’. Tug attached via a drawbar would have been some metres further forward and the collateral damage less severe.

    As for scrapping, Air NZ parted out at least one of its owned-from-new 767s at its AKL base; I recall seeing the bare fuselage, stripped completely, alongside the maintenance hangars some years back.

    BA parted out its hull loss 777 at its LHR maintenance base, I believe, in an operation well shielded from prying cameras.

    Kemble, Gloucestershire, in England, is home to a big fly-in, truck out, parting out operation that can strip and mince anything up to the size of a 747.

    Don’t need to be anywhere near the US desert to part out.

    LH has huge maintenance facilities at FRA; parting out can be done in a large hangar; the final fuselage dismantling and shredding can be done outside with portable equipment and the resultant minced metal trucked out for recycling.

  16. I hope the ~10 people hospitalized make a speedy recovery.

    I’m also glad it was towing a decrepit A340 and not a beautiful 748.

  17. @Ivan X

    All Star Alliance members have one or more planes with the Star Alliance livery. It’s just a way to promote the alliance, I guess.

  18. By the way…the same happens with the other 2 big alliances. You can also find OneWorld and Skyteam liveries.

    And on those Star Alliance liveries, you can still see the logo of the airline that owns the plane, it’s just smaller.

  19. @Ivan X It’s just a livery. The plane is owned, as usual, by the airline, a financing partner (bank, fund, leasing company, etc.) or another airline (wet-lease/dry-lease).

    @Jack: AFAIK, LH is very heavy into owning planes, hence why they operate their airplanes for longer. Other airlines rely more heavily on leasing planes and have contracts with 10-15 years terms after which the airplanes are traded in for newer planes.

    If the aircrafts’ book value is largely written of by year 15 or 20, then it makes sense to keep operating the aircrafts for some years. While cost of maintenance will increase as the plane ages and fuel costs will be higher compared to a spanking new airplane, the ownership cost is going to be incremental.

  20. I don’t know and not sure how anyone reading this blog would know unless they worked for Lufthansa.

  21. @Fred M I visited Kemble last weeked and also did some reading after the visit. I was impressed with their operation. They dismantle quite a lot of planes. Also heard some interesting stories from ex-exployees regarding 747s landings at short strip.

  22. Honestly the foam and smoke livery looks better than the original Star Alliance livery. Thankfully no fatalities or major injuries.

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