Yesterday we looked at orders deliveries and backlogs for the four commercial jet freighters currently offered by Airbus and Boeing. Today we turn our attention to the state of the large widebody freighter fleet as a whole, asking how the entry into service of the current generation of large freighters – and the demand growth seen in 2014 and so far this year – has affected the pre-existing large widebody freighter fleet.
It was not that long ago that 747-400 and MD-11 freighters totally dominated the fleet. As newer 777Fs and 747-8Fs began entering service, there was an expectation that the older types would gradually be retired. Then, with the dramatic fall-off in demand growth, that expectation changed from “gradually” to “very quickly.”
When we last looked at this subject almost a year ago, we found that the pace of retirement of MD-11Fs and 747-400Fs had indeed begun to accelerate, with about 18% of MD-11Fs and 22% of 747-400Fs in long-term storage. But when we included planned retirements in the equation, it seemed clear that the numbers of these two types in service would soon shrink much more dramatically.
Since that time, deliveries of new production freighters have continued apace, but demand growth has returned. Some observers have concluded that this demand increase will not only spell an end to retirements, but in fact cause carriers to return previously parked freighters to service.
In the eleven months since our last count, what we find is that there are now 196 747-400 freighters in active service, eight more than last year. However, the in-service MD-11F fleet stands at 125, down 17 from last year, for a nine-unit net reduction in the combined fleets.
The 747-400 freighter fleet is made up of two production and two conversion variants, and, as shown in the chart below, they have not all fared equally. Only a relatively small percentage of the -400F and -400ERF production freighters is currently parked, but almost 14% of the-400BDSFs and a huge 60% of the -400BCFs are now in the desert.
While it is true that the converted freighters are not as fuel efficient at production models, and cannot compete in terms of payload and range, it is also worth pointing out that part of the reason for the parking of such a large percentage of BCFs is that they are the oldest 747-400 freighters. The BDSFs tend to be younger, and, in general, the production freighters are the youngest among the 747s.
Looking ahead, and taking into account announcements by carriers of planned retirements, we expect that within a few years, 40% of otherwise serviceable MD-11Fs, and 36% of 747-400Fs will have left the fleet.
Welcome to the age of the 777F and 747-8F.
To learn more about freighter fleet dynamics, click here.