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Dj's Aviation

Soaring to New Heights

Analysis Opinion Pieces

Is the Boeing 777x Freighter the Future?

The Boeing 777x, an aircraft which is yet to officially fly but never the less has been talked about constantly since the first pictures of the aircraft were released. We’ve seen the wingtip, wheels and more all come together and the hype has only increased. The 777x is a long-range twin-engine passenger aircraft which will be the successor to the current 777 series. An aircraft which has been around for over two decades. The 777x features various improvements which allow it to have better fuel efficiency and more added benefits. However, the classic 777 that we’ve come to know also has a freight variant. One that over the years has become quite popular. The 777f is an all-cargo version of the 777 passenger aircraft. However, it specifically shares a number of features with the 777-200LR. The aircraft has achieved a maximum payload of 102,000kg which is quite similar to what the Boeing 747-200F had. However, this 777f has just the two engines and is more efficient. As the cargo market has surged the aircraft has inevitably become more popular.

Will we ever see Boeing release a 777x Freighter though? Our focus has to heavily be on the performance of the 777f to get a gauge for whether there’s a need for a new freighter aircraft. Introduced with Air France in 2009 the 777f is relatively new despite it sharing technology from the 1994 777 passenger aircraft. This makes the oldest possible age of a 777f just 9 years. In the grand scheme of things, this is far from old as we can see some freighters fly for upwards of 20 years. Another factor to take into consideration is that the 777f is still receiving orders. During the 2018 Farnborough Airshow Cargologic and DHL placed orders for the aircraft. However, ignoring these orders the aircraft has amassed some 200 orders while only delivering 150 or so. This would mean if we took the average flying years into an account that the 777f could still be around for potentially another 30 years or 3 decades. Realistically though the 777x freighter would have been released long before that as one would even start to question how prominent the unreleased 777x passenger version would be at that point in the industry. So we know that the 777f is a popular aircraft and is relatively new, but what does the future hold? That’s where we’ll head in this analysis, the future.

The Air Cargo outlook for the next 30 years is bright with traffic rising 4.2% and 980 deliveries of new aircraft. In fact, according to Boeing and many reports, the cargo sector is continuously growing and year in year out seeing results that many would dream of. Taken from Boeing’s market outlook they say “In the first quarter of 2018 air cargo growth continued with an above-trend growth rate of 5.8 percent.” You heard me say the need for 980 deliveries of new aircraft to manage the growth. However, there’s a very important part I left out, and for good reason, as it deserves a lot more discussion. That is the estimated 1,670 conversions from passenger aircraft to freighter aircraft. This is where the 777 BCF comes into play. The BCF is a converted passenger 777-200. This aircraft is one that Boeing has been eyeing for some time now and as they begin to see Airbus do complete this approach with their A330s Boeing wants in on the action. However, over the years we’ve seen more and more airlines retire their 777-200s but no cargo airline has opted for the program. Instead, they’ve gone for the stock standard 777f. A problem identified with this conversion was the CF floor beams. This problem while sounding minimal is quite the large one and in fact results in the cost for converting the aircraft to absolutely skyrocket. Therefore it does beg the question as to whether it is truly feasible. Are there benefits to this BCF though? Yes, quite a few. However, most notably it’s the price. As they are converted passenger aircraft the price drops drastically from a brand new 777f and allows more cargo companies to actually operate the aircraft. Despite this, the 767F has been tracking along well and is for many the perfect option. How does this impact the launch of the 777x freighter though? Well from this it’s become evident that while demand is there the current portfolio of aircraft from Boeing is quite incredible. The immediate need for a 777x simply isn’t there.

Even if there Boeing has other aircraft is there truly any demand for the 777x freighter? Partially. Only one customer has expressed their desire for a freight variant and that’s been from Lufthansa Cargo. They do operate the 777f. The developments came out in February of this year and have not really formed into anything. Lufthansa Cargo noted that the 777x word has been of interest because of their departing MD-11Fs set to leave the fleet by 2024. The head of Lufthansa Cargo back in February said that he would like to see a cargo version of the 777x in the next five to six years. Of course to tie in perfectly with the departure of the MD-11. If this was to occur it’d be 4 years after the launch of the 777-9 and 1 or 2 of the 777-8. Not a long time when we’re comparing the 777 to the 777f which as stated was 15 years. If demand is there then sure Boeing should go and launch the aircraft, however, I can’t help but think it’d be more useful say in 2030 or late 2020. This is when a number of the 777fs would begin ageing and cargo airlines would be looking at replacements. It would also ensure that the technology would not be too old and improvements could be made from the passenger version.

Does Airbus fit into the release of a 777x freighter? Partially. At this point, Airbus doesn’t have a perfect alternative to the 777f and have been lacking in their portfolio of freight aircraft. That is looking to change now with the first A330-300 passenger to freighter aircraft being delivered to DHL. The first delivery gives the a330s which would otherwise be headed to the graveyard or parts a new lease of life and saves customers a lot of money. As Airbus never released the A380F they struggle to compete with the 747-8f or 777f, another factor to consider. If you don’t have much competition there isn’t a huge need to release something as quickly as let’s say their NMA. Boeing estimates that their 777BCF would only offer around 11% more volume than that on the A330P2F. It’d also have 700 kilometers more range with 37% more payload rate. These differences while being noticeable place them as perfect replacements for the MD-11f aircraft which as I’ve detailed will be leaving fleets sooner rather than later. I’ve probably flown quite a few numbers at you so hopefully, I didn’t confuse you all as that was far from my aim. What I’m more simply trying to say is that the 777BCF and A330P2F are almost the perfect replacements for the Md-11f. Short term though. As both of these aircraft types would have already aged airframes it wouldn’t be a fix for let’s say next 40 years. No doubt by then we would have seen the rumoured A330neo freighter and 777x freighter. However, until then either the 777f, potential 777BCF, and A330P2F will control the market.

Another consideration is the 787F or A350F. These have also been discussed. Many believe the 787-10 would be the perfect aircraft to base the freighter version off. But we then encounter a problem. The 787-10 would be very close to the 777f in regards to volume. So if they opted for the 787-10f there would truly be no need for a 777xf. It would no doubt whatsoever have a cheaper asking price and many airlines would not see a difference that would be worthy of paying the x amount of money more for the 777xf. Realistically the next jump up would be the 747-8f. However, if Airbus decided to launch their own A350f based off the -1000 we could most definitely see Boeing come back with their 777xf, this would be based entirely off the success of the aircraft. If their current 777f is still tracking well with the release of the A350f then they can afford to wait.

So what’s the bottom line from all these discussions and my overall opinion. The bottom line is that the 777x freighter is no doubt a potential aircraft to be released in the future. I’d say its 60% likely one day we will see it. With all the market outlook it just makes sense. However, movements from Airbus and developments of other cargo aircraft or conversions from passenger to cargo will no doubt have an impact on the eventual release date of the 777x freighter. My opinions as I’ve said are that I’d be all for the 777x freighter. I believe one day we will see it and sure I might be wrong but with the growth of the sector It ties in perfectly and especially as a 777f replacement. 

*Please note, this is the direct script taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMO3V6NH_xs – no drastic changes have been made*

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