The narrowbody freighter fleet — Part III

Today we conclude our analysis of the worldwide fleet of narrowbody jet freighters with a look at the fleet on a type-by-type basis, with a focus on express vs. general cargo, and then by regional distribution. You can read Part I here (the overall composition of the fleet), and Part II here (the passenger-go-freighter conversion market).

Turning from the future fleet, which we looked at yesterday, to the current one, we start by examining it on a type-by-type basis. The active narrowbody fleet is dominated by three types: The 757-200F accounts for 43.4% (292 of the 673 total), followed by the 737- 400F (18.7%), and 737-300F (18.6%). 727-200Fs account for just over 7% of the fleet, but while the numbers of 757-200s and 737-400s will continue to increase for at least a couple of years, the 727-200s – which once dominated the narrowbody fleet – will be retired. We do not expect to see many more 737-300s converted, but the type remains popular as a freighter in China, so there will certainly be some. Retirement will also be the fate of the few remaining 727-100Fs, DC 9Fs, 737-200Fs, and BAe 146QTs. The number of MD-80Fs in operation will grow steadily for at least the next few years, but probably only at a rate of three or four per year.

Who operates these 673 narrowbody freighters? It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at the chart in Part I to see that a lot of narrowbody freighters are carrying express packages for FedEx, UPS, DHL, China Postal, SF, and YTO. But that first glance under-represents the importance of the express and postal business to the narrowbody fleet, because many of the smaller airlines in the list (and on the extended list of carriers with less than three narrowbodies) operate their freighters for one (or sometimes several) of the express companies and national postal services. As the chart at right shows, 469 of the 673 narrowbody freighters currently in operation are flying for express companies or postal services.

The 757-200F leads the way in this respect, with 97% operated by or for express companies. From there, the percentage declines to 94% of the BAe 146QTs; 69% of 737-400Fs; 60% of the Tu-204s; and 58% of 737-300Fs. Overall, 70% of narrowbody freighters in service today are operated by or for the express companies and postal services.

Looking at the fleet on a regional basis: 86% of the narrowbody freighters are operated in the three major geographical regions – unchanged from eighteen months ago. Of these 41%, are in North America – which is hardly surprising, given the huge 757-200F fleets operated by FedEx and UPS in their US domestic networks. Europe, where DHL has a big presence (and where the former TNT has become part of FedEx), is home to 21%, and the rapid growth of e-commerce in China has boosted the share of narrowbodies in the Asia-Pacific region to 24%. The remaining 14% are split among the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa.

However, as can be seen in the chart at right, including only freighters with currently available conversion programs changes the percentage distribution somewhat. 91% of the newer types are concentrated in North America, Europe, and the AsiaPacific regions, while the older types are disproportionately located in Africa and Latin America.

In summary, while the narrowbody freighter fleet continues to grow, the rate of growth has slowed somewhat in the last eighteen months. This slowing is partly due to the completion of FedEx’s massive 757 fleet build-up, but also in part an indication that some potential customers have decided to wait for the newer types. This slower growth will likely continue through 2018, and into 2019, but once the new programs are up to speed that will change.

The current and future composition of the narrowbody freighter fleet will be a major subject of interest at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai, 23 – 25 April. In addition to a session devoted specifically to narrowbodies, we will also have a presentation based on this year’s Twenty-Year Freighter Forecast.

For more information about the Forecast, or to order your copy, go to For more information about Cargo Facts Asia, or to register, go to

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