The changing narrowbody freighter fleet

What is the most popular freighter aircraft in the world?

We haven’t conducted a survey, but we’d be willing to bet that if you asked most people in the air freight industry, their answer would be “The 747-400F.”

But they’d be wrong. To our knowledge, there are currently 191 747-400 freighters (production and conversion) in service worldwide. That is a large number, but it isn’t even close to the 242 757-200Fs hauling freight today. In fact even if you add in the 747 Classic freighters still in use, the 747 would not be the winner.

There are still more widebody freighters in operation than narrowbody, but the gap has stopped widening, and narrowbodies now make up about 36% of the total commercial jet freighter fleet. We say “about 36%” because there is more than one way to count the fleet. For purposes of this article, we have chosen not to include the few remaining 707Fs and DC-8Fs, nor do we include aircraft in combi configuration. We do include aircraft in Quick Change configuration if we believe them to be operated full time as freighters.
Using these guidelines, we find that there are now 546 narrowbody freighters, of nine types, in commercial operation by 102 carriers. 78 of these carriers operate four or fewer freighters (34 operate just one), and the chart at right shows only those carriers operating five or more.

No narrowbody freighters are currently available as new-builds, and there are active passenger-to-freighter conversion programs for only four – the 757-200F, MD-80F, 737-400F, and 737-300F. Both Precision Aircraft Solutions and ST Aerospace offer P-to-F programs for the 757-200, while Aeronautical Engineers, Inc and PEMCO World Air Services offer P-to-F programs for both the 737-400 and 737-300. AEI also has an active MD-80 program and recently launched a 737-800 conversion program, But AEI’s 737-800 program, like the A320/A321 P-to-F program just-announced by PACAVI is still in the design stage and have not been certified. (Israel-based Bedek Aviation Group holds STCs for conversion of 737-300s/-400s, but is not currently active in this market.)

We will continue our analysis of the worldwide narrowbody freighter fleet on Monday, looking at the fleet in three ways: type-by-type, by end user, and by geographical region. We will also look at who has converted what in 2014, and offer a forecast of the conversion scene for 2015

We also encourage those interested in the conversion and operation of narrowbody freighters to join us at the Cargo Facts Aircraft Symposium in Miami next week, 22 – 24 October, where senior executives from three conversion houses (AEI, PEMCO, and Precision), a lessor (Kahala Aviation), and an operator (Northern Aviation Services) will participate in a session titled “The Narrowbody Freighter Boom.” For more information, or to register, visit the Symposium website.

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