A look at special-edition freighter liveries

Unit 35170 flew for about six weeks with the remnants of CargoLogicAir’s blue livery. (Photo: Cargolux)

Special liveries, common for passenger aircraft, are few and far between when it comes to freighters, but Cargolux has produced what could be the first retro paint scheme for a cargo aircraft.

The 747-400F (35170, ex-CargoLogicAir) returned to Cargolux headquarters in Luxembourg (LUX) on July 14 after spending two weeks in Shannon (SNN), where it was painted at the International Aerospace Coatings facility.

According to Cargolux, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, the livery is based on the design originally applied to the carrier’s first Canadair CL-44 swing-tail freighters in the 1970s.

Unit 35170 isn’t the first aircraft in the Luxembourg-based carrier’s fleet to be given special colors. One 747-8F (61169) was painted in a special cutaway livery to celebrate the airline’s forty-fifth anniversary in 2015, while another 747-400F (37303) features the two beluga whales Cargolux transported from China to Iceland last year.

More common than elaborate paint schemes are freighter aircraft with hybrid liveries containing remnants of past operators, like Challenge Airlinessecond 747-400F (35169), which is still in Jade Cargo International’s green livery, or in some cases, a plain, all-white paint job, as with an Atlas Air 747-400F (33515, ex-Korean Air).

Painting and maintaining an aircraft’s livery represents a significant expense as well as adding to weight and operational costs. All of these factors are pertinent when it comes to the freighter industry, for which aircraft cosmetics tend to be of less concern than in the passenger business. The annual cost differential between operating a 747 with a polished skin versus an aircraft with a full livery can vary by as much as $80,000 for a 747-400, for estimates based on heavily utilized passenger aircraft, according to Boeing. A single paint job for a large widebody aircraft can cost up to $200,000.

Decorative paint scheme weights in kg (Boeing)

However, we note there have been a few special liveries on freighters consisting of more than a small decal or minor additions, including:

  • A Boeing 747-8F (37564) in Seattle Seahawks colors, later repainted and delivered to Qatar Airways in 2017;
  • A Cathay Pacific 747-8F (39238) with a “Hong Kong Trader” livery, repainted in 2018;
  • An Emirates 777F (42230) with a “From Emirates SkyCargo with love” livery in 2017; and
  • An Etihad 777F (62745) with a “Year of Zayed” livery in 2018.

Cargolux acquired unit 35170 in February and put it into service in May. For about six weeks, the aircraft operated in the mostly intact remains of the blue CargoLogicAir livery.

The 747-400F had been acquired to replace the older unit 27503 retired by Cargolux  at the end of 2019. That aircraft, first delivered to Cathay Pacific in 1995, joined the Cargolux fleet in 2015. It recently took to the skies again with Bermuda-based Longtail Aviation, which is leasing it from Aquiline International.

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