By Winston Shek
Lufthansa Cargo Retires Final MD-11 Freighter
Lufthansa Cargo retired its final McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 Freighter on Sunday, marking the end of a 20-year era of trijet operations for the airline. It operated legs to Cairo, Tel Aviv and Chicago before flying its last flight on Saturday, which operated under the flight number Lufthansa flight 8161, a transatlantic hop departing New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Oct. 16, at 11:12 p.m. and arriving in Frankfurt at 12:03 p.m. the following day, per data from FlightRadar24.
The Lufthansa Cargo trijet scheduled for retirement is D-ALCC, a 23-year old MD-11 Freighter destined for operations with U.S.-based Western Global Airlines. D-ALCC sports a “Thank You MD-11, Farewell” sticker to commemorate the aircraft’s service and retirement, along with a thank you graphic on its forward left cargo door.
Lufthansa Cargo received its first MD-11 in June 1998, operating 19 freighters over the course of 23 years, replacing the Boeing 747-200F. As the backbone of its cargo operations through the late 2000s and early 2010s, these freighters delivered cargo through the airline’s Frankfurt, Germany hub.
However, in 2011, Lufthansa Cargo ordered five Boeing 777 Freighters as part of an initiative to shift to a more efficient and newer two-engine widebody. As a result, the MD-11 Freighter was slowly phased out of the fleet, scheduling its retirement for December 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, increased cargo demand triggered the delay of its retirement until October 2021. Even the retirement of D-ALCC was postponed from Oct. 15 to Oct. 17 as the aircraft was scheduled on two extra runs from Frankfurt to New York.
Lufthansa Cargo retired three Mcdonnell Douglas MD-11 Freighters each in 2020 and 2021, facilitated by the entrance of four Boeing 777 freighters to the airline’s fleet. In September 2021 alone, the airline received two Boeing 777 freighters, a former Emirates SkyCargo freighter and a new Boeing 777 straight from the Boeing Everett plant.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-11 program was launched by Mcdonnell Douglas in late 1986, after Mcdonnell Douglas conducted studies and trials regarding a derivative of the DC-10. The initial prototype of the aircraft was constructed in 1988, flying its inaugural flight on January 10, 1990. McDonnell Douglas received FAA certification in November of that year, allowing for the first delivery of the MD-11 to Finnair in December 1990.
In total, 200 MD-11s were built, including 131 of the passenger type — which saw orders from carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Swissair. However, the trijet saw limited success in the passenger market, due to the MD-11’s inability to meet performance targets with its range and payload. Outside the passenger market, however, the MD-11 Freighter was engineered to reach up to 7,000 nautical miles with 28,000 kilograms of payload, instead, reaching 7,000 nautical miles with 22,000 kilograms of payload.
These issues with payload and range affected carriers like American Airlines, which complained about range issues forcing frequent stopovers. These issues deterred carriers such as Singapore Airlines from ordering the jet, with Singapore swapping its order for MD-11s with Airbus A340s. Even after Mcdonnell Douglas attempted to resolve the range issues, new twin-engine programs like the Boeing 777 came online, drawing further orders away from the MD-11 program.
After McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997., the focus of the MD-11 shifted to its usage as a freighter jet, due to competitive concerns with other Boeing aircraft. The aircraft saw some success with freighter operations and formed a niche, as some passenger aircraft were converted to freighters, in addition to 50 orders for a freighter type. The MD-11 Freighter became a workhorse with freighter airlines like FedEx and the United Parcel Service, in addition to long-haul freighter operations for Martinair Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo.
Only three McDonnell Douglas MD-11 operators will remain after the retirement of Lufthansa Cargo’s trijets: FedEx, UPS and Western Global. Currently, FedEx operates the most MD-11 Freighters with 59 of the type, followed by UPS with 42 of the type, per planespotters.net. Ultimately, the retirement of the Lufthansa Cargo Mcdonnell Douglas MD-11 marks the end of an era for European aviation and Lufthansa’s history.