Part I looked at the overall changes to the structure of the fleet in the last year, and Part II examined the current fleet on a carrier-by-carrier basis. Today we look at some trends that will shape the fleet in the years ahead, starting with the parking of older freighters.
In addition to the freighters shown in the charts, there are a large number in storage. This includes many older types that will never fly again, but also includes some forty 747-400Fs (both production and converted), almost sixty MD-11Fs, and a few A300-600Fs. Many of these could easily be returned to service if required, but Cargo Facts believes that most of them will stay on the ground. Falling oil prices brought some out of retirement in the last two years, but given the proliferation of belly capacity and the backlog of new freighters that will be delivered over the next few years, it would take more than the current 2% annual growth in air freight demand to bring more than a few of them out of the desert.
Regarding the backlog, as shown in the chart at right, fifteen carriers and one lessor had 164 widebody production freighters on order with Airbus and Boeing at the beginning of March. Of these orders, almost 60% – sixteen 777Fs and eighty-one 767-300Fs – are for FedEx. The remainder are spread among the other fourteen carriers and lessor Guggenheim Aviation Partners.
In addition to the outstanding orders for production freighters, there has been an upsurge in orders for P-to-F conversions. SF Airlines, the air arm of Chinese express company SF Express, placed an order with Boeing for five 767-300BCF conversions, while EFW received orders from China-based Uni-Top for conversion of seven A300‑600s and from Egyptair for two A330-200 P-to-Fs. In addition, Air Transport Services Group, Atlas Air, and Kalitta Air all have orders in place with Bedek Aviation Group for 767-300BDSF conversions.
The total number of conversion orders is unclear at this point, but if rumors that Kalitta is acquiring the nineteen 767-300ERs being disposed of by American Airlines are true, the total 767 P-to-F conversion backlog could soon be as high as thirty-five. Add in the five remaining A300-600s EFW is converting for Uni-Top and the two A330-200s for Egyptair and the total freighter backlog – production and conversion – would be near 200, well up from last year’s 120 production freighters and fourteen conversions. (Although nowhere near the 309 orders in the backlog in 2007).
There are currently available programs for P-to-F conversion of 747-400s (Bedek and Boeing), A330-200s/-300s (EFW), 767-300s (Bedek and Boeing), 767-200s (Bedek), and A300-600s (EFW, Turkish Technic). Of these, the 747 programs are effectively dead, and once EFW completes the five A300-600 conversions currently in its backlog, that program, too, is unlikely to see any more orders. Likewise, the days of 767-200 conversions are probably over. But soaring demand for 767-300 conversions means that Bedek and Boeing will have their hands full for the next few years. As to the A330, Airbus launched the conversion program through a joint venture with EFW and ST Aerospace four years ago, but so far has announced only the two-unit launch order from Egyptair. Cargo Facts is unsure what demand for freighter-converted A330s will be in the future, or when that demand will start to ramp up, but the era of the 767 cannot last forever.