[See update in comment at end of post]
How big? Well if the latest rumor is true, Saudia Cargo is going as big as it is possible to go: with two two 747-8 Freighters. Cargo Facts is awaiting confirmation, but we believe the Saudi Arabia-based carrier has agreed to buy two of the 747-8Fs (37562 and 37563) originally ordered by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, but then rejected. Delivery is believed to be scheduled for March.
While 2012 may have been a tough year for many carriers in the cargo business, it was a great year for Saudia. Full-year numbers are not yet available, but the carrier set an all-time record for cargo volume in October, and then broke that record in November. For the year through November, Saudia reported cargo volume up 19% to 471,000 tonnes. The carrier’s cargo boss Fahad Hammad said he expected December results to continue the pattern, and that 2012 cargo revenue would be up about 20% over 2011.
In addition to belly space available in parent Saudia’s widebody passenger fleet, Saudia Cargo has access to fourteen freighters, including four 747-400Fs, five 747-200Fs, four MD-11Fs, and one A310-300F. Of these, only the MD-11Fs and one of the 747-200Fs are owned, while the rest are operated on an ACMI basis by other carriers. Considering that three of the four 747-400 freighters are conversions, this is probably the oldest, least fuel-efficient fleet operated by any major carrier today.
So, given Saudia’s strong 2012 performance, and the current state of its freighter fleet, it is hardly surprising to hear that the carrier is planning to make some changes.
Updated 24 January: One correction and one addition — we believe delivery of the first unit is scheduled for May, while delivery of the second will be in August. We have also been told that Saudia is considering the acquisition of 777Fs, although we do not know the quantity.