The Farnborough Air Show typically means a flurry of press releases heralding new aircraft orders – and 2014 is no exception. Air Algerie’s order for a pair of 737-700Cs, actually placed earlier this year but announced today at Farnborough, is notably unusual.
Although the 737-700C has been offered for sale since the 1990s, just three have been sold to non-military customers. Saudi ARAMCO took delivery of a pair of -700Cs in 2001, and Sonair of Angola took a single -700C in 2008. These aircraft have historically been primarily used for oil & gas operations – not scheduled freight or passenger service. Sonair’s -700C was bought by TAAG Angola Airlines in 2011 and has since been used for passenger service and limited cargo work. Air Algerie, on the other hand, plans to use its two -700Cs for scheduled pax and freighter operations around North Africa, the Middle East, Europe. It is the first major airline to order the sub-type.
Although popular with the United States Navy (which operates the basic -700C designated as the C-40A), the
-700C has never found much acceptance from commercial operators for several reasons. Primarily, the acquisition cost of the -700C is far higher than an equivalent 737-300 (or -400) conversion – and most freighter operators do not have high enough utilization rates to justify a new-build aircraft. Beyond that, there is much less of a need for QC aircraft in 2014 than there was in the heyday of such offerings, prior to the rise of express companies and integrators; and many 737-700 operators are LCCs with no desire to complicate their operations with quick-change aircraft and main deck cargo operations.
The purchase of the two -700Cs is part of an overall fleet expansion program. The carrier ordered eight 737-800s in January to add to the 17 737-800s and five 737-600s it already flies. For long-haul routes the Algerian flag-carrier also flies three Boeing 767-300ERS and six Airbus A330-200s.
According to CEO Mohamed Salah Boultif, “The 737-700C will provide our fleet with flexibility, and enhances our ability to carry cargo on important routes,” perhaps to be operated in freighter configuration on a daily, weekly, or even seasonal basis. The ability of these aircraft to blend seamlessly into the regular Air Algerie fleet gives the carrier an opportunity to test cargo routes and experiment with various service offerings and destinations – and grab more share of North Africa’s growing cargo market. All with less risk than investing in a cheaper-to-buy, but operationally more complex, dedicated freighter.
For passenger operations, the 737-700C can carry 140 passengers, while for freighter ops it has space for eight 88″ x 125″ pallets on the main deck (with a built-in loading system) and 966 cu. ft. of bulk volume in the belly. The aircraft can load up to 40,000 lbs. of freight.