A new 767 freighter mystery

Who is the mystery customer that ordered three 767-300Fs?

On 30 March, Boeing booked an order for three 767-300 Freighters from “Unidentified Customer(s)”. The company didn’t publicly announce the order until two weeks later, and no one has since stepped up to say “It was us.”

So who could it be?

We don’t know, but we can offer up a few guesses. And, of course, a fabulous prize to the first reader whose guess proves correct. More about the prize later, but first a bit of background, then our own guesses.

As we have said before, the 767-300 is an unusually long-lived bird. Its demise was foretold well over a decade ago when Boeing first announced the 787 as a replacement. As many of you remember, service entry of the 787 was delayed, giving the 767-300 a bit of added life, but production ended with the delivery of the last unit to Air Astana in mid-2014. Well, production of the passenger variant ended, but the freighter variant lived on.

More than lived on. It thrived. Since Air Astana took that last passenger 767, Boeing has delivered fifty-five freighters, and, at the beginning of this year, still had fifty-eight more (all for FedEx) in its official backlog. Plus 179 767-based refueling tankers for the US Air Force. Not bad for a program that was seen a decade ago as being close to its end.

But while this backlog of 237 units was great for Boeing, the Air Force, and FedEx, it was not so great for anyone else who might want a 767 freighter, and we heard rumors of a variety of potential customers being turned away because of the lack of available production slots.

Now, on to the guesses:

One obvious candidate is FedEx. Why? Because in addition to the 108 767 freighters Boeing shows as ordered by FedEx, the express giant has four more on conditional order, with the condition being that FedEx and its employees remain covered by the Railway Labor Act. Over the last few years, FedEx has firmed several such conditional orders (for 777Fs as well as for 767Fs), so this could be another such firming. Why Boeing and FedEx would want to keep it behind the Unidentified Customer curtain is unclear, but who knows?

Also on the list is UPS. Big Brown is the only customer to have been able to place a 767 freighter order since FedEx effectively tied up the production line. That four-freighter order, announced two months ago, was part of a much larger order for fourteen 747-8Fs. We believe that UPS wanted far more than four 767s, so they are certainly on the list as well. Though again, we don’t know why they would choose to remain unidentified – particularly with their pilots publicly berating management for not ordering enough new freighters.

SF Express has to be on the list, as well. As is the case with UPS, SF was widely rumored to have been rebuffed in its attempt to place a significant 767 freighter order. Could this be the breakthrough for the China-based express company? In theory perhaps, but SF says “It is not us.”

And finally, no list of 767 mystery customers would be complete without Amazon. As with UPS and SF, Amazon has been the subject of many 767 order rumors, and might well want to remain anonymous. We continue to believe that Amazon will, in time, order many more freighters than the forty it has planned for Amazon Air’s US operation, but that is simply our belief, and we have no knowledge of the e-commerce giant’s plans.

There are other possibilities, of course. Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings and All Nippon Airways come to mind, as does China’s other big express company, YTO Express.

But let’s hear your guesses…

Oh, and about the prize: The next time the winner visits our Seattle HQ, the coffee and doughnuts are on us!

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