It’s not all that long ago that the long-haul or heavy freighter market was more or less being written off by the industry due to a turndown in the air freight market. Some years have passed since then and now we can look at a completely different picture.
Boeing is buoyant
The Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer can be happy with their full order books for new aircraft types. Admittedly, most of these are various passenger versions ranging from the B737 types up to the newer B787 versions. The manufacturer is also said to be looking at developing a future B797 ultra long-range aircraft which would make non-stop flights from Europe to Australia and Transpacific a daily occurrence. The present long-haul passenger aircraft, such as the B777 and B787, although powered with two engines, give carriers ample belly space for cargo transport over long non-stop sectors.
However, in comparison to a few years ago, Boeing is taking a serious look at the ‘re-emerging freighter demand.’ Their figures show an expected 4.2% growth per annum up until 2037. If this figure were to remain stable, then that would mean double the number of freighters in the air by that time.
Conversions will take the lead
There’s basically not too much competition out there for Boeing as far as the production of freighters is concerned. it is said that they have just over 90% of the freighter market and that during the past twelve to eighteen months have delivered around 130 freighters to various customers around the world. Almost 40% of these were converted types such as the B767 and B757.
Things have changed over the past three to four years with the expected e-commerce boom becoming reality and growing at a pace which has surprised many airlines and prompted them to take another look at their future freighter fleets.
This development has prompted Boeing to take another look at future freighter needs and they recently published a prognosis which in their view shows that during the next two decades that the worldwide freighter fleets will double in size. This they state would mean that around 2600 new or converted freighters will be needed to cope with capacity demands. The majority of these will be passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversions which Boeing estimates at almost 1700 units. The remainder would be new aircraft orders.
Four freighters to choose from
New and converted medium range B767Fs are high on the list. These continue to be popular with the integrators and operators which are flying on behalf of Amazon. Boeing still has the B767F production line open but also has their conversion programme as well in the hope that they can keep up with demand.
In comparison to Airbus, the Seattle manufacturer is lucky to have four freighter options still open.
The venerable B747F can still be ordered as the -8F version, although demand is lacking. Carriers such as UPS and AirBridgeCargo are keeping the line open.
The new runner, although with a lower payload than the 747F is the B777F. This is the most popular long-haul freighter now in service and Airbus has not been able to compete with their A330F. The B777F has a longer range than the big sister 747F.
Last, but not least, the B737 freighter which is experiencing a revival. Boeing offers a conversion programme as well along with various other P2F conversion companies around the globe.
If the world remains stable and the economy is not irreparably hit with economic chaos during the coming years, then Boeing’s prognosis may well turn out to be fact.
John Mc Donagh