German airline Lufthansa is withdrawing funding support for the 1936 Junkers Ju-52 that is operated by Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung (DLBS). The historic 16-seat aircraft has been flown in Lufthansa colours since 1986 and typically carries more than 10,000 fare-paying passengers on sightseeing flights every year.
Lufthansa is withdrawing funding support for the operation of historic Junkers Ju-52/3m D-CDLH / D-AQUI. (The Aviation Oracle)
Although the Ju-52 represents a high-profile projection of Lufthansa's brand and tickets to fly on it are costly, the airline has to subsidise its operation. Its crews also fly the aircraft in their free time, without pay. It is reported that Lufthansa believes it is not possible to operate the Ju-52 economically, and its funding has therefore been withdrawn. DLBS is investigating means of keeping the historic aircraft flying although that might involve it not carrying passengers.
The news about the Ju-52 follows Lufthansa abandoning a project to restore a 1950's Lockheed L1649 Starliner long-range propeller-engined airliner. The complex program had been running for more than ten years but with a great deal of work still to be completed and costs spiraling a reported total of more than $100m, the plug was pulled. The Starliner is being disassembled and will be moved to Europe, where it is likely to go on static display. The decision by Lufthansa - a very profitable airline - to cease financial support the Ju-52, along with its termination of the Starliner project, raises doubts about the operation of historic airliners by well-known brands.
Undoubtedly these aircraft are complex and costly to maintain and fly, and as the skills base dwindles with age these tasks will become ever more onerous. Unfortunately there have been several high-profile incidents involving preserved airliners. More than 20 years ago the Dutch Dakota Association (DDA) lost a Douglas DC-3 on a trip from Texel to Amsterdam which cost 32 lives. The aircraft was flown in KLM colours. Another DC-3 came down in September 2010 while departing from an airport in Berlin, thankfully without loss of life. This year the Dutch Aviodrome's newly acquired Convair 240 airliner, carrying Martinair colours, crashed during a test flight from Wonderboom in South Africa shortly before it was to be flown to Europe. One person lost their life. Then on August 4, 2018 Ju-Air Junkers Ju-52/3m - a similar aircraft to the one flown by DLBS - was lost in the Swiss Alps killing all 20 on board. No one is claiming that these historic airliners are intrinsically unsafe but the investigation into the Swiss tragedy revealed corrosion in the Ju-52's structure that it wasn't possible to detect during routine maintenance. And each of the accidents had high-profile coverage in national and international news and the stories propagated rapidly via social media.
Cost and risk reduction
Major corporations have a continuous focus on cost control, but many are also seeking to divest non-core activities - especially those that are unprofitable. Unfortunately the operation of historic airliners falls into both of those categories. We also live in a risk-averse world and the widespread exposure every aircraft crash gets does not reflect well on a brand. It doesn't matter who is culpable or whether the incident could have been avoided - the name of a airline plastered down the side of a wrecked fuselage will never be seen positively. There is a point where the value-add an airline gains from an historic aircraft is outweighed by the cost, accountability and reputational risk, and many carriers are there already. With shareholders to answer to, it's understandable that the boards of most are distancing themselves from the operation of preserved aircraft that are not part of the day-to-day fleet.
The Junkers Ju-52 proudly flying the Lufthansa flag will be a sad omission from airports and airshows this summer. The Aviation Oracle hopes that a means of continuing its operation will be found even if it does not involve carrying revenue passengers. But it isn't just the Ju-52. Some other ongoing propliner flying programs across Europe are also subject to question. The DDA Classic Airlines DC-3 program for this summer has not yet been confirmed. The aircraft no longer carries KLM Royal Dutch Airlines livery but the organisation is working hard to maintain its approvals despite needing to conform to additional operation al and legislative restrictions. Some other classics have already been grounded as a result of the increasingly costly and complex regulatory environment. The days of being able to take a step back to yesteryear by flying in a 1930's or 1940's are rapidly coming to an end in Europe.
Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung is a German foundation that aims to preserve historic aircraft. Its active fleet comprises a 1930's era Ju-52/3m D-CDLH (D-AQUI), as well as a five-seat Dornier 27 and a four-place Messerschmitt Me-108 B-1 Taifun. DLBS is also restoring to static display condition the world's last remaining Focke-Wulf Fw 200 airliner, which first flew in the 1930s and was recovered from a Norwegian fjord in the '80s. Whether flying the Ju-52, Do27 or Me-108 will continue without Lufthansa's support, and perhaps not carrying paying passengers, remains to be seen.
Text © The Aviation Oracle