Last week, in Parts I and II of this three-part analysis of the worldwide turboprop freighter fleet, we offered an overview of the fleet, as well as a showing the entire fleet broken down by carrier, and then looked at the fleet in more detail on a type-by-type basis. Today, we examine the small jet freighters that could be thought of as competing with the turboprops.
The space between the largest of the turboprops and jet freighters like the 737-300F/-400F is not a vacuum. Over twenty years ago, British Aerospace (BAe) launched a conversion program, under the name Quiet Trader, for its small quad-jet BAe 146. Some thirty of the type were converted as new-builds in the 1980s for TNT, but only thirteen are still in commercial service today – nine operated by ASL Group on behalf of FedEx in Europe, three operated by JetEx for Qantas Freight in Australia and one by Star Perú.
BAe successor, BAe Systems, tried to revive the BAe 146 Quiet Trader program in 2007, but met with little interest, and we assumed no more would be converted. However, it appears that the recently re-started Australian carrier Skyforce Aviation will have two units (one QC and one passenger) converted to Quiet Trader configuration and operate them for Virgin Australia, which recently gained a contract to support TNT (now FedEx) in Australia. The BAe 146QT offers a payload of 10.6 tonnes in its -200 variant and 12.1 tonnes in the -300 variant.
Russia’s Sukhoi also announced in 2007 that it intended to develop a 15-tonne-payload freighter version of its Superjet100, but has been silent on the subject since. More recently, Ukraine-based Antonov Design Bureau launched production of the An-178, a twin-jet, 19-tonne-payload, ramp-loading freighter based on the 99-seat An-158 passenger aircraft. First flight took place last year, and Antonov has now booked over forty orders, but while the An-178 will likely see success in military and project cargo applications, Cargo Facts does not believe it will ever be a significant factor in the express or general cargo markets.
The one small jet freighter that has become a success – albeit after a slow start – is the CRJ200F. In 2007, Cascade Aerospace cooperated with Bombardier to develop a small-door conversion program for the CRJ200 and CRJ100. In the seven years since, only eight have been delivered: three 200s to West Atlantic (one of which crashed early this year), three 100s to Mexico-based MCS Aero Cargo and two 100s to Estafeta Carga Aerea, also based in Mexico. A ninth unit has been converted by Canadian lessor Avmax, but not yet placed. But the big story for the CRJ is that, in 2013, US-based conversion house Aeronautical Engineers, Inc (AEI), also working with Bombardier, began developing a large-door CRJ200 P-to-F program. None are in service yet, but AEI has already booked forty-five firm orders, and expects to receive its STC for the CRJ200 P-to-F program in July of this year.
The obvious question arising from the success of the CRJ200 P-to-F program is whether the CRJ200F will eat into turboprop freighter demand or whether it fills a different niche. Evidence to date points toward the latter, but time will tell.
Looking ahead, it seems likely that demand for large turboprop freighters will continue to increase at a relatively low single-digit rate annually in the near future. We expect that growing demand for air express service in Asia will be met by narrowbody jet freighters, while the turboprop freighter fleets in the rest of the world, particularly Europe and North America, will continue their modest growth.
In addition to this turboprop freighter fleet analysis, we also publish three other freighter fleet analyses annually:
If you are interested in a more in-depth look at the worldwide freighter fleet, both as it is today and how it will change over the next twenty years, then consider the annual Twenty-year Freighter Forecast published by Cargo Facts’ parent company, Air Cargo Management Group.