It’s not every day a narrowbody production freighter is delivered. In fact, when Air Algérie took delivery of its first of two 737-700Cs on 26 May, it was the first delivery of a narrowbody production freighter (albeit in convertible configuration) in almost twenty years. And the first-ever 737 production freighter to go into commercial service.
Following the delivery of a second 737-700C in September, the carrier plans to deploy the pair as part of a new standalone cargo unit. The move to acquire the 737-700C, rather than a converted freighter is widely seen as a low-risk strategy for testing freighter operations. 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.” Even though the acquisition cost of the -700C is far higher than an equivalent classic 737 conversion (-300 or -400), the convertible capability is appealing to the carrier. Unlike a full freighter (whether converted or production), Air Algérie can easily convert the -700Cs to passenger configuration on a seasonal basis, or permanently if the new cargo venture is unsuccessful.
Although the 737-700C has been offered for sale since the 1990s, just three have been sold to non-military customers, finding their niches mostly within the oil & gas industry rather than in commercial freighter or passenger service. Saudi ARAMCO took delivery of a pair of -700Cs in 2001, and Sonair of Angola took a single -700C in 2008. TAAG Angola Airlines acquired Sonair’s -700C in 2011 and has since used it for passenger service and limited cargo work. Air Algérie, on the other hand, plans to use its two -700Cs for scheduled freighter and potentially pax operations around North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, making it the first major airline to take delivery of the sub-type.
Air Algérie’s addition of the two -700Cs is part of a five-year restructuring plan which began in 2012. As part of the plan, the carrier will bring the total number of aircraft in its fleet to 59 by the end of 2017, having added sixteen 737 aircraft. By year’s end two additional 737-800s are slated for delivery, with plans to acquire three additional aircraft in 2017.
For passenger operations, the 737-700C can carry 140 passengers, while for freighter ops it has space for eight standard (88 in x 125 in) pallets on the main deck (with a built-in cargo loading system) and 27 cu. meters of bulk volume in the belly.