KLM to retire last Boeing 747 in April

A KLM Boeing 747-400(M). Photo: © Leonard Leinroth / IFN

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is bringing forward the retirement of its last few Boeing 747 passenger aircraft amid the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.

On Saturday, the Dutch flag-carrier published a general overview on how it will handle the current crisis. Along with network cuts, this includes retiring the last remaining Boeing 747-400 in April this year, instead of Summer 2021 as previously planned.

Only six remaining 747 planes are currently part of KLM’s fleet, most of which are more than 20 years old. They include two variants, the regular 747-400 for passengers, as well as a few 747-400M, a passenger/freight combi version of the aircraft type. KLM was the launch customer of the -400M variant in 1989.

Both will be retired by April, with some media reports saying it would be done even earlier than that: in late-March. Three cargo-only Boeing 747-400F, which are operated by KLM subsidiary Martinair Holland, will remain in operation.

KLM first introduced the 747 in 1971, at that time a 747-200, and was therefore originally planning to end its history with the aircraft type exactly 50 years later, in 2021.

The reason behind this short-notice decision for an early retirement is the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis and resulting travel restrictions around the world. This has caused a crash in demand and is putting airlines in a very difficult situation. As it is now harder than ever to fill a large aircraft with passengers, many airlines are opting to temporarily – or permanently – ground their larger and older types. In the case of KLM, this is the Boeing 747-400. New Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner are set to replace the type once the current crisis is over and business returns to normal.

Other examples for currently grounded large aircraft can be found at Lufthansa, Qantas and Korean Air, all of which have temporarily suspended operating most or all of their Airbus A380s.

Meanwhile, American Airlines is bringing forward the retirement of its remaining Boeing 757 and 767 by one year, with the latter one due to be retired as early as May. The airline has cancelled most of its long-haul network because of Coronavirus.

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