Eyes on the desert as Saudia Cargo refleets

Saudia's long-term plan may be for a fleet of modern freighters like this 777Fs and 747-8F (shown above), but in the meantime, it will need to bring some -400Fs out of the desert. Photo: Alex Kwanten

Saudia’s long-term plan may be for a fleet of modern freighters like 777Fs and 747-8Fs (shown above), but in the meantime, it will need to bring some -400Fs out of the desert. Photo: Alex Kwanten

Much of Saudi Arabia is desert. Many 747-400s are parked in the US desert. So perhaps it is fitting that a refleet being undertaken by Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia will see many of the carrier’s existing freighters going to the US desert (or the scrapyard), while at the same time, many freighters currently in the US desert will go to Saudi Arabia.

Which, while it doesn’t make a lot of sense at first glance, is all the result of an edict from the Saudi Arabian aviation regulator requiring the country’s airlines to remove from their fleets all aircraft twenty years old or older. Given that Saudia’s cargo arm ACMI leases ten 747-400 freighters, all but one of which are in the 20+ category, we knew that a refleeting would be required, but we weren’t sure when it would take place (the government had reportedly given the carrier a grace period), or what form it would take.

Part of the answer undoubtedly lies in an order placed with Boeing last year by an undisclosed customer for four 777Fs. As we reported at the time, we believe that order came from Saudi Arabia, and that the 777Fs will be operated by Saudia Cargo, alongside the carrier’s two recently acquired 747-8Fs.

But what about the rest of the fleet? Air Atlanta Icelandic operates seven 747-400Fs, a mix of production and converted units, for Saudia, and only one of them will be allowed to stay if the carrier is to meet the twenty-year rule. Likewise, Turkey-based myCargo Airlines operates three 747-400BDSFs for Saudia, and all three are well over twenty years old.

Cargo Facts has learned from a source close to the matter that the deadline is approaching, and that both Air Atlanta and myCargo are well along in the process of acquiring 747-400Fs currently in the US desert, re-registering them, and moving them into operation for Saudia. So keep a close watch on the storage facilities at places like Victorville and Marana, because if our information is correct, quite a few moderately old (but less than twenty years old) freighters will soon be departing. How long they will stay with Saudia is an open question, but for now at least, they will allow the carrier to comply with the new law, while continuing to operate a significant freighter fleet.

As for the old freighters that come out of the Saudia Cargo fleet, many are unlikely to ever find a new home, and will be parted out, while a few will probably end up on the stands formerly occupied by the freighters that are replacing them.

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