The global air cargo market has stumbled somewhat during the past twelve months, due mainly to a distinct slowdown on exports from China on the transpacific routes as well as to Europe. Many airlines are presently being cautious about adding extra cargo capacity on various routes. In fact, developments over the past few months have shown a noticeable reduction of freighter capacity on offer.
This development - whether short-or long term, is not preventing aircraft conversion companies in coming up with new freighter version ideas.
B777F - a reliable replacement for the B747F
The Boeing 777F has made a name for itself as the two engined replacement freighter for the B747F. Although it offers around 30 tons less payload than the B747-8F, the Triple Seven freighter has become a hit with cargo carriers. Two engines, 103 tons payload, far better fuel burn - all these add up to an ideal long-range freighter aircraft. The order book at Boeing for the B777F remains quite full and so far, there have been no cancellations by carriers despite the present market turndown.
The B747-8F production line still remains open, mainly to serve a final order made by UPS for the type. The B747-8 passenger version never really got off the ground due to airlines opting for smaller two engined long-haul aircraft such as the A350, B787 and the B777. In total just under fifty B747-8 passenger aircraft were delivered and the production line was closed. The B747-8F was more successful with the first of a total of 90 or so ordered being delivered to Cargolux in 2011.
The B777F has however proven to be much more popular with cargo carriers despite showing a (surely variable) list price of around US$400 million. At last count a total of almost 240 of them have been ordered with 180 already in service.
Boeing 777 passenger versions get ready for conversion
GECAS (GE Capital Aviation Services), the large Irish-American commercial aviation financing and leasing company which has almost 2,000 aircraft on lease to hundreds of clients around the globe, has joined forces with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for a B777-300ERSF conversion programme.
Many of the hundreds of B777 passenger aircraft in service are starting to reach the end of their lives and are seen by both GECAS and IAI as suitable candidates for conversion into freighters. Of the more than 800 B777-300ERs in service, Emirates is the largest operator with 134 on their books. They are followed by Cathay Pacific (52) Qatar Airways (48) and Air France (43). There are also a number of B777s which are already out of service and stored in the desert.
GECAS sees a market for well over 300 new and used B777 freighters over the next ten years and are seemingly convinced that a B777-300 P2F conversion programme could account for almost 50% of this number. Hence, the tie-up with IAI and the decision in mid-October to open a conversion line. GECAS has ordered 15 firm conversions with a further 15 options. Both companies are now on the outlook for suitable aircraft in order to achieve first deliveries in 2022.
Lower price and more volume
The B777-300ERSF (Special Freighter) will be quite different from the present B777-200LRF being delivered from the Boeing factory. The end price has not yet been determined. However, when one considers that feedstock could be obtained in the range of US$35 - 50 million each during the coming two years, plus conversion costs of between US$35-40 million - then an attractive price tag could follow.
The newly converted aircraft are planned to be powered by the same GE90 engines already in use on the current B777-300ER aircraft. The -300ERSF cabin is larger than that of the -200 series on which the B777F being produced at Boeing’s factory is based. This, GECAS and IAI state will ensure that the new freighter can offer 25% more main deck capacity spread over an additional 10 pallet positions. It has not yet been revealed whether the B777-300ERSF will give clients who order it also more payload than the present 103 tons.
Dubbed by GECAS and IAI as the “Big Twin,” the aircraft could well become a hit with present and upcoming freighter carriers.
A lower price, better range, more fuel efficient and more capacity and hopefully an upgraded payload. All these factors may lead to GECAS and IAI to come up with a (new) long range freighter which will be attractive to operators even if the market remains in the doldrums or not.
John Mc Donagh
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