767 Renaissance

A KC-46A refuels an F-16C during the first refueling test flight.

A KC-46A refuels an F-16C during the first refueling test flight.

It is common wisdom in the aviation world that first delivery of a new aircraft type is the death knell for the type it replaces.  But to paraphrase Mark Twain, “reports of the 767’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Boeing delivered its first 787 – a direct replacement for the 767 – over four years ago, but not only has the 767 program refused to die, it is thriving.

We start with the current news: Boeing this week conducted the first refueling flight of a KC-46A tanker. Assuming the test program is completed successfully, the US Air Force will take delivery of 179 of the 767-based tankers – enough to keep the 767 production line going for many years.

But it is not just military tankers that will be on the 767 line, there will also be freighters. A lot of freighters. Nobody has ordered a 767 passenger aircraft since early 2012, but instead of the 767 line coming to a halt while Boeing worked on development of a 767-based refueling tanker for the US Air Force, the company has taken more orders for its 767 freighter since the 787 entered service four years ago than it did in the eighteen years before.

Of course, every one of those orders has come from a single customer, and there can be little doubt that substantial discounts were involved, but FedEx’s hundred-plus orders will easily keep the 767 line humming as production of the 767-based KC-46A tanker ramps up.

And there are rumors of even more orders. In late 2014 SF Airlines, the air arm of Chinese express company SF Express, ordered five 767-300BCF passenger-to-freighter conversions from Boeing, but in mid-2015 rumors began circulating that SF was also negotiating with Boeing about an order for new-build 767-300Fs. Then, in August, the World Civil Aviation Resource Net reported that SF had already placed an order with Boeing for twenty-five 767-300Fs. Neither Boeing nor SF has confirmed or denied the rumor, and Cargo Facts has not been able confirm it independently, but we would not be surprised if there were at least some truth in it.

Nor is SF the only customer rumored to be interested in ordering 767 production freighters. As part of its plan to launch an own-controlled air network, e-commerce giant Amazon has been widely reported to be looking to acquire twenty 767 freighters. Most of these would be freighter-converted 767-300BCFs or BDSFs, but Cargo Facts believes Amazon has been in discussions with Boeing about the possibility of an order for production units.

Whether SF Airlines or Amazon has ordered, or will eventually order, new-build 767-300Fs remains to be seen. What is clear is that despite the strong performance of its successor, the venerable 767 is a long way from passing into history.

To celebrate the renaissance, here are a few of our favorite 767 freighter photos.

All Nippon Airways operates eleven 767-300 freighters, including this BCF

All Nippon Airways operates eleven 767-300 freighters, including this BCF. Photo: Aero Icarus/Wikimedia

All Nippon Airways operates eleven 767-300 freighters, including this BCF. Photo: Aero Icarus/Wikimedia

Brazil’s ABSA Cargo operates 767 freighters for parent LATAM Airlines

Brazil's ABSA Cargo operates 767 freighters for parent LATAM Airlines

Brazil’s ABSA Cargo operates 767 freighters for parent LATAM Airlines

UPS operates fifty-nine767-300Fs

UPS operates fifty-nine767-300Fs

UPS operates fifty-nine767-300Fs

In addition to the 106 737-300Fs FedEx is committed to taking from Boeing, the company has also acquired five units formerly operated by LAN Cargo and Silk Way.

In addition to the 106 737-300Fs FedEx is committed to taking from Boeing, the company has also acquired five units formerly operated by LAN Cargo and Silk Way.

In addition to the 106 767-300Fs FedEx is committed to taking from Boeing, the company has also acquired five units formerly operated by LAN Cargo and Silk Way.

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