On 10 May, Boeing delivered a 777F (66079) to DHL Express, the first 777F to sport a DHL Livery [FATs 004884-4885]. The aircraft is the first of at least fourteen, and up to twenty-one, 777Fs that were part of an order announced last year at the Farnborough Airshow [FATs 004505–4525]. In the months since the order was announced, the operator (or operators) of the incoming aircraft remained a mystery. Although DHL could easily place the new freighters with multiple operators, the first aircraft, at least, will be operated on a CMI basis by Atlas Air Worldwide’s affiliate, Southern Air.
Photos of the aircraft seen by Cargo Facts clearly indicate the aircraft is “operated by Southern Air.” Additionally, the aircraft carries a Southern Air registry (N705GT) and was recently ferried to the operator’s hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG). Cargo Facts believes DHL’s second 777F (66080) will also be operated by Southern Air using the registration N706GT. The aircraft is currently in assembly at Boeing’s Everett plant, and delivery is expected later this year. Neither DHL Express nor Southern Air could be reached for comment, but an announcement with more details is expected shortly. For now, here’s a planespotter photo of the aircraft that was posted on Twitter:
DHL 777 N705GT landing at PAE after a test flight to MWH today. pic.twitter.com/Dx8wFmTBkR
— Jennifer Schuld (@JenSchuld) May 4, 2019
For DHL Express, the 777F order represented something of a departure from an earlier strategy that relied heavily on leased 777Fs. Following the order announcement, DHL Express said that directly purchasing the freighters would “improve the cost position of the DHL Express division going forward.” At present, however, there is no sign DHL Express has any plans to return its leased freighters. In fact, last year Southern Air began operating two ex-LATAM Cargo 777Fs (38091, 41518) for DHL Express, bumping the Southern Air 777F fleet to six units. Cargo Facts also believes a 777F previously leased by Emirates SkyCargo (35606) from Atlas Air’s leasing arm Titan Aviation Holdings will soon join the Southern Air fleet, and will likely operate for DHL Express.
Looking beyond DHL’s second 777F in final assembly, to the twelve 777Fs on firm order, and options for up to seven more, it remains to be seen where these aircraft will be placed, and ultimately, which carrier will operate them. It’s no secret that other ACMI operators are interested in providing CMI services for DHL’s 777F. Last year, Air Transport Services Group, Inc. acquired Oklahoma-based Omni Air, which provides ACMI services with a fleet of 767s and 777s. ATSG has since noted the relevance of the 777 platform to the company’s core cargo business.