Three KLM-operated 747-400 Combis — the final three in commercial services — will disappear from cargo schedules with the start of the winter season Oct. 25.
Retirement will follow for the widebody trio, KLM Cargo confirmed.
Though the aircraft will no longer be hauling cargo for KLM, the airframes will continue to support the air cargo market as young GE-powered 747s, either as a source of spare parts or conversion feedstock. Reactivations have grown the in-service 747-400 freighter fleet, throttling demand for parts and engines. The CF6 powers not only most 747-400Fs, but also the majority of freighter-converted 767-300Fs.
With few 747-400s converted in recent years, renewed life as a freighter may seem improbable, but at least one conversion house thinks this is increasingly likely amid the pandemic. It has been two years since the last passenger-configured 747 was converted to freighter configuration, but Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the only company still offering 747 conversions, remains optimistic that at least one more 747 will be converted. Asiana Airlines surprised the industry in 2017 when it converted two 747-400 Combis from its own fleet to freighter configuration.
Compared to a full-freighter conversion, combi-to-freighter conversions are nominally cheaper, and can be completed faster. IAI converted Asiana’s 747 Combis in about 90 days. The KLM units are reasonably young for a 747-400, ranging in age from twenty to twenty-four years old.
Returning to KLM, the scheduled, cargo-only flights that had been operated by the Combis will be reduced, with 777-300ERs replacing the flights that will continue to operate. The Dutch carrier had decided in April to reactivate two Combis for cargo-only flights to China, but ended up bringing three of four back into service (28459, 28460 and 30454). The fourth aircraft (28195) was removed from service in late March and ferried to Mohave (MHV) in May.
Since April, units 28459, 28460 and 30454 have only flown to Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG) and Hong Kong (HKG), with cargo also being carried in the passenger cabin starting in May.
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