In Boeing’s overview of 787 customers, there are 69 different airlines and lessors. It features many prominent names, but one has been missing. Until now, that is. With the delivery of its first 787-9 on August 29, Lufthansa has become the 70th Dreamliner customer and the most important new operator for years. The 787 will take an important role within the Lufthansa network. At last, Lufthansa joins the Boeing 787 family.
Ever since Boeing launched the 787 in 2003 and in the decade after that, Lufthansa kept a reserved position on the carbon fiber airplane. It used to be a loyal Boeing customer, having been the launch customer of the 727 and 737, and is one of the few airlines to operate the passenger version of the 747-8, but the Boeing twins have been absent from the carrier’s fleet. Although subsidiary Austrian Airlines operates the 767 and 777 and SWISS the 777, parent airline Lufthansa has had a preference for the Airbus A330, A340, A380, and the A350 when it came to passenger widebodies.
Only in 2012, it came close to selecting the 787-10, which at the time had to be launched. Lufthansa did a deep comparison between the -10X and the 787-9 as a future replacement for the A330 and A340-300 and -600 but instead opted for the Airbus A350-900 in September 2013. Two months later, the German carrier also ordered the 777-9.
First order placed in March 2019
It took another six years until the Lufthansa Supervisory Board finally committed to the 787. On March 13, 2019, it approved the recommendation of the Executive Board to buy twenty 787-9s plus twenty options alongside another twenty A350-900s. The Dreamliners would be delivered between 2022 and 2027. Both twin jets would replace the older A330s and A340s, and partly the A380 fleet as well, of which six would be returned to Airbus as part of the A350 deal.
“By replacing four-engine planes with new models, we are laying a sustainable foundation for our future in the long run. In addition to the cost-effectiveness of the A350 and B787, the significantly lower CO2 emissions of this new generation of long-haul aircraft was also a decisive factor in our investment decision. Our responsibility for the environment is becoming more and more important as a criterion for our decisions,” CEO Carsten Spohr said in a media statement.
The need for efficient twin jets became ever more evident a year later, when the airline was in the first wave of Covid and had to park most of its fleet. Out went the 747-400s and A380s, unlikely to ever return to service in a post-Covid world (although Lufthansa will bring back some A380s in 2023). Lufthansa believed it needed agile and efficient twin jet widebodies for right-sizing its long-haul services and left no opportunity unused to source additional A350s wherever it could find them like the four it sourced from Philippine Airlines.
The first Lufthansa Boeing 787-9 after her arrival in Frankfurt on August 30. (Martin Leutke)
It did the same with the 787, announcing in May 2021 that it would buy another five 787-9s. Spohr and his team got them on very favorable terms. These were Dreamliners originally ordered by Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines, but the Covid crisis had pushed the parent group HNA into deep financial troubles and it wanted to offload all unnecessary orders that it could. “Due to the dramatic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global aviation, aircraft that had been ordered by some airlines could not be delivered in the past twelve months. Lufthansa held talks with Boeing and found a way to buy five 787-9 that were already manufactured”, Lufthansa said in a media release. That the five 787-9s were ex-HNA-Group was only revealed later.
At the time when Lufthansa ordered the five additional 787s, it had no visibility whatsoever as to when to expect the first aircraft. Boeing had just paused Dreamliner deliveries in May 2021 after the FAA ordered a thorough review of the production process following multiple quality issues. Carsten Spohr had been optimistic that he would receive the first aircraft before the start of the 2021/2022 winter season, with more to follow in the first half of 2022, but this schedule was restructured indefinitely in May 2021. As the delivery pause continued, Lufthansa had to push out the entry into service on a monthly basis. Speaking in Doha, Spohr hoped he would get the first aircraft soon after the summer.
More orders in May
In the meantime, the carrier ordered another seven 787-9s in May 2022 for delivery in 2025 and 2026, bringing the total Dreamliner order to 32 aircraft. These seven were ordered for a reason, as they are to partly bridge the gap until the first 777-9s will join Lufthansa somewhere in 2025 or 2026 after this program too suffered from continuous delays. With the follow-on order, Lufthansa also revised the delivery scheme for the 787s again and brought forward some deliveries from 2025 to 2023 and 2024.
Three weeks after the FAA cleared 787 deliveries again on August 8, Lufthansa went to Everett to pick up its first -9 (registration D-ABPA, named ‘Berlin’, built in 2019, General Electric GEnx engines) that had been thoroughly reworked, inspected, and approved for delivery. “Today’s delivery to the Lufthansa Group is a significant milestone for both companies as we resume European 787 deliveries and Lufthansa receives its first 787. I am delighted to see Lufthansa join a growing set of airlines worldwide operating the industry’s most capable twin-engine airplane,” Boeing Commercial President and CEO, Stan Deal, said during the delivery ceremony. The aircraft departed Paine Airfield at 4.28 pm local time and after a low fly past touched down in Frankfurt this morning at 11.00 am sharp local time.
The first Lufthansa 787s will inherit the Business Class seats from Hainan Airlines. A dedicated Lufthansa seat will be introduced in 2023. (Hainan Airlines)
Being a Hainan aircraft, ‘Berlin’ comes with a hybrid cabin. Like the Philippine Airlines A350s, it keeps the seats that were originally selected by Hainan but will reconfigure them slightly for Lufthansa’s taste in the next few weeks. At the front are 26 Business Class seats that are different from Lufthansa’s current own BC product but which will be replaced with a new seat that is delivered new in 2023 on both the 787 and the A350. Then there are 21 Premium Economy seats, which have been hugely popular in the past quarters and have earned Lufthansa some good money. This leaves space for 247 seats in Economy Class, bringing the total seats to 294. Three more ex-Hainan 787s and one originally destined for Suparna are also in various stages of rework or final checks.
After the cabin has been prepared in Frankfurt, the first 787-9 will enter route proving flights within Germany to familiarize the crew with the new type. Once ready, the Dreamliner will enter commercial service this autumn to Toronto, replacing the A340-300.
No newly built aircraft are showing in the production list, but deliveries of the 787 fleet to Lufthansa will take through 2027, but the parent airline could be not the only one to fly the Dreamliner. With subsidiary Austrian Airlines considering its options to replace its aging 767s and 777s, the 787 is believed is a strong candidate. Reports in 2020 and 2021 said that Austrian would get four 787-9s already this year, but no decision has been made yet. Austrian actually first considered the Dreamliner back in 2010 but never confirmed this with an order.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.