Saudia Cargo fleet revamp will hit lessors

Saudia Cargo, the cargo arm of Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia, confirmed what Cargo Facts has said since the beginning of this year: that it is the customer for four 777Fs (ordered by the Saudi government, but shown by Boeing as “Unidentified Customer”), which will be delivered between April and December next year.

But that is only the beginning. Cargo Facts’ European editor Alex Lennane reports that a new Saudi Arabian aviation regulation will require the country’s carriers to retire all aircraft over 20 years of age. Intended originally to cover Hajj flights, which often saw charter companies bring in very old aircraft to transport the millions of pilgrims flying into Mecca, the ruling also extends to cargo aircraft. The government is likely to give Saudia Cargo an extension to allow it time to comply, but the impact on the carrier’s fleet – and even more so on its current lessors – will be enormous.

As shown in the chart, Saudia Cargo’s owned freighter fleet currently includes two active 747-8Fs and four parked MD-11Fs. In addition, it ACMI leases nine 747-400 freighters and one -300. Of the leased freighters, all but a single 747-400F are over twenty years old, and will have to be eliminated from the fleet under the new law. Saudia says it will introduce three or four younger 747-400Fs into the fleet soon, which, following the delivery of the 777Fs next year, will give it a relatively modern fleet made up of two 747-8Fs, four or five 747-400Fs, and four 777Fs.

Saudia Cargo’s lessors, however, will be hard hit. Air Atlanta Icelandic has a 17-unit fleet made up of six 747-400 freighters, nine 747-400s in passenger configuration, one A340-300, and one A330-200. All of these except the single A340 are leased to Saudia, and most of them are either over, or approaching 20 years. myCargo is in a similar position. Its fleet is made up of four 747-400BDSFs in its fleet, of which three are leased to Saudia.

While Saudia’s replacement of older freighters with newer may have been fast-tracked by the government’s decision to ban aircraft older than twenty years, it is nonetheless part of a major change in the structure of the world’s widebody freighter fleet, as carriers shed MD-11Fs and freighter-converted 747-400Fs, while adding 777Fs and 747-8Fs. This sea-change in the fleet will be the subject of a round-table discussion at the upcoming Cargo Facts Aircraft Symposium, 22 – 24 October in Miami. The “Fleet Strategies” session will feature senior executives from manufacturers Airbus and Boeing, conversion house IAI Bedek, from Emirates, and from ACMI lessor and fleet manager Air Transport Services Group. For more information, or to register, visit the Symposium website.

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