5 idled 747-400Fs most likely to return to service

Earlier this month, Alan Hedge, senior director, Cargo Facts Consulting, provided a census of the stored 747-400F fleet and found a total of eleven factory built 747-400Fs under the age of 20 years (you can read that analysis here). After going through the list on an aircraft-by-aircraft basis, Cargo Facts has identified the top-five parked 747-400Fs most likely to return to service.

#1 EVA Airways 747-400F (30608, 17.2 years old)

Although once the operator of fifteen widebody freighters (nine 747-400Fs and six MD-11Fs), Taiwan-based EVA Airways has cut its maindeck fleet by two-thirds since 2013 to just five units in favor of greater reliance on the belly capacity available on the carrier’s widebody passenger aircraft (three 747-400Fs and two older 747-400BDSFs). EVA is currently mid-way through a freighter fleet renewal plan that involves replacing its 747Fs with 777Fs.

A recent timeline of EVA’s fleet renewal provides some clues as to where its third and final 747-400 production freighter may end up:  

  • November 2017, EVA took redelivery of its first 777F (62824).
  • December 2017:  EVA withdrew a 747-400F (30607) from use.
  • March 2018: The outgoing 747-400F (30607) joined the Atlas Air fleet.
  • May 2018: EVA took delivery of its second 777F (62825).
  • June 2018: EVA retired another 747-400F (30609).
  • August 2018: The outgoing 747-400F was transferred to Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings’ Polar Air Cargo fleet earlier this week, and will be operated by DHL.  

Just yesterday, EVA took delivery of its third 777F (62826) and moved its third and final 747-400F (30608) into maintenance. Judging by the pattern that has emerged, we expect this freighter, a sister ship to the previously retired ex-EVA 747-400Fs, to eventually make its way into the Atlas Air fleet. Unlike EVA’s outgoing 747-400Fs which are of a relatively recent vintage (2000–2002), its two 747-400BDSFs (27898, 27899) are both around twenty-four years of age, and may not see life again with another carrier once they are retired by EVA.

An NCA 747-400F lands at Milan Malpensa Airport. Photo Enrico Pierobon/Wikimedia

#2 Nippon Cargo Airlines 747-400F (36135, 10 years old)

On 17 August, Nippon Cargo Airlines submitted an improvement plan to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) that centers around “revising the flight scale to match the size of the staff” and, according to a statement released by the carrier’s parent NYK Group, will include consolidating the fleet and maintenance operations to a single platform based on the 747-8F. Given that NCA has three 747-400Fs in its fleet around a decade old, Cargo Facts expects NCA to face little difficulty should these aircraft be put up for sale at market price. We expect the youngest production freighter, which was delivered in July 2008 (36135) to be nabbed up first.

#3 Malaysia Airlines 747-400F (29902, 12.2 years old)

In the Spring of 2016, amid a company-wide restructuring plan that would dramatically cull Malaysian Airlines’ widebody passenger and freighter fleets, two lightly used 747-400Fs, each around a decade old (28434, and 29902), were put into storage. Although one of the freighters (28434) was picked up by Silk Way West Airlines in May 2018, the second aircraft (29902) remains in storage at Kuala Lumpur Airport (KUL). Despite the uptick in demand for widebody freighters, high book values are the likely culprit inhibiting these aircraft from being snapped up by another carrier. However, now that the first aircraft has made its way out of Malaysia, we wouldn’t be surprised if the second follows. Might unit 29902 also end up in the Silk Way West fleet?

#4 Korean Air 747-400FSCD (26408, 20.2 years)

Korean Air accelerated its freighter fleet renewal goals in 2016, adding to its 777F and 747-8F fleets (now standing at twelve and seven aircraft, respectively) and retiring 747-400Fs. Many of those have since ended up with US-based Kalitta Air, including Kalitta’s most recent acquisition (32809, 15.9 years) and at least one aircraft older than the one currently in storage. It would not be a surprise for unit 26408 to make its way either into either Kalitta’s or Atlas Air’s fleet, considering that another -400F (33517) offloaded by Korean Air last year was sold to Altavair and is now on-lease with Atlas.

#5 China Airlines 747-400FSCD (30762, 17.6 years)

The cargo division of Taiwan-based China Airlines operates a fleet of eighteen active 747-400 freighters, and has a further three units in storage. In addition to unit 30762, two other freighters  (30760, 30761) have been stored in the desert at Victorville (VCV) since 2012 as changing market dynamics in the early-2000s left the carrier with more freighter capacity than was necessary. Considering that the youngest of China Airlines’ stored 747-400Fs is approaching eighteen years old and the two others have already reached that age, these aircraft are older than many of the -400Fs being snapped up by operators, such as Kalitta Air and Cargolux, looking to add to their 747F operations. It’s likely that due to inflated book values, it has been tough to find a buyer for these aircraft.

Learn more about the future of widebody freighters on 10-12 October at  Cargo Facts Symposium, where a roundtable panel discussion will be dedicated to the topic. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactssymposium.com.

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