Boeing widebody could help airline's cargo arm meet growth needs, despite recent decision to move to an all-MD-11 fleet

Lufthansa Cargo says it could return to the Boeing 747 freighter for its expansion needs despite the recent decision to phase out its 747 Classics as part of an all-Boeing MD-11 fleet. The revelation comes as the airline agrees a major network tie-up with express package carrier DHL, which will see Lufthansa Cargo operating five long-haul routes from Europe under a joint venture agreement.

By the end of this year Lufthansa Cargo's fleet will comprise 19 MD-11s, while three 747-200Fs sold to Air Atlanta Icelandic will also be operated under a wet-lease agreement. Its other five 747-200Fs are being retired and sold as the carrier moves to an all-MD-11 fleet.

"We realise that there is a limited market for MD-11Fs that meet our specification - ie with General Electric engines - and we will have to look elsewhere for additional capacity," says Jean-Peter Jansen, Lufthansa Cargo executive board chairman. "The acquisition of 747-400 freighters could enable us to meet growth in the next three to five years," he says, and discussions have already been held with Boeing about its 747-400 Special Freighter cargo conversion.

The airline's policy of operating GE-powered freighters would make 747-400s operated by Lufthansa's passenger division the preferred choice "should they have some they don't need, which at the moment they don't", says Jansen. "They operate seven -400 combis in the all-passenger mode, which would be the ideal platform for conversion as they already have a side cargo door."

For the longer term, the carrier continues to evaluate the Airbus A380 freighter and a proposed freighter version of the 777-200LR. The latter, which Boeing is studying but has no plans to launch in the near future, could be available in 2008-9, says Jansen: "It would be a great freighter, with a payload of 105t, and good range and operating costs."

The DHL tie-up will involve seven MD-11s operating joint flights from the express package carrier's European hubs at Bergamo, Brussels, Cologne and Nottingham East Midlands airport, to three Asian points - Hong Kong, New Delhi and Singapore; two in the Gulf - Bahrain and Sharjah; and two in the USA - Cincinnati and New York Kennedy. The operation, which equates to more than 1.3 billion t/km a year, will "mainly use" Lufthansa Cargo MD-11s says Jansen. "We will wet- lease Gemini MD-11s for routes where we don't have traffic rights."

Source: Flight International