Six 747s flew right into a Dutch airport — however then could not go away

(CNN) – Six Lufthansa Boeing 747-400s landed at Twente Airport, a small Dutch air traffic hub in the north-east of the country, in the summer – and were then stranded for months.

The aircraft were decommissioned due to the reduced flight schedule of the German airline after the Covid-19 pandemic and arrived in Twente in June and July.

As soon as the planes landed on the airport’s tarmac, they should head for the demolition.

Sure enough, five of the six planes were later sold to the aircraft recycling company GE Aviation Materials, based at Mojave Airport, California.

But there was a catch: the Dutch Authority for the Environment and Transport (ILT) banned planes from leaving Twente.

Thus began a complex negotiation process that finally resolved the stalemate last Thursday.

Grounded planes

Pictured here: The sixth Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 arrives at Twente Airport in July.

VINCENT JANNINK / ANP / AFP via Getty Images

Prior to this resolution, the ILT informed CNN Travel that the planes could not depart because Twente Airport did not have the correct safety certificate.

Larger jets – such as the Boeing 747 – are currently allowed to land in Twente for the purpose of demolition, but cannot take off.

The small Twente Airport has only one runway. The airport, which was formerly used for both civil and military aviation, has only been in commercial use since 2007 and describes itself online as the “ideal location for business aviation”.

There is also an on-site dismantling company – Aircraft End-of-Life Solutions (AELS), which has scrapped jets that were previously owned by airlines like KLM and Lufthansa.

“The airport’s infrastructure is currently not suitable for the take-off of larger and heavier aircraft,” an ILT spokesman told CNN Travel last Wednesday. “The airport operator has also not asked for permission to deviate from international safety regulations. This can pose safety risks.”

Lufthansa informed CNN Travel that when the six Boeing 747s landed in the summer, larger jets were allowed to take off for non-commercial and storage reasons.

The dispute was supposed to be settled in court with a lawsuit between ILT and Technology Base, the airport hub, but a compromise was reached: the ILT granted “a one-time exception” that allowed the aircraft to depart. The ILT said that some safety requirements must be met – namely, that the 747s must carry “little fuel” and that the “aircraft must be light”.

“Both parties agree that the current state of affairs cannot be repeated,” said ILT in a statement last Thursday. “This means that Lufthansa planes can depart from Twente Airport. The first plane will take off shortly.”

“We welcome this agreement,” a Lufthansa spokesman told CNN Travel on Thursday.

Many airlines were already planning to remove the Boeing 747, dubbed the “Queen of the Skies,” from their fleets before the coronavirus pandemic further accelerated this exit.

British Airways, for example, withdrew its last Boeing 747 aircraft months ahead of schedule in October 2020.

The 747 is a popular aircraft for pilots and passengers and is largely being replaced by newer and more efficient jets.

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