Narrowbody freighters II – a closer look at the fleet

Yesterday, we began this year’s examination of the narrowbody freighter market with a snapshot of the current fleet – the view from 10,000 meters, so to speak. You can read Part I here, but today we turn to the close-up view, beginning with a look at the fleet on a type-by-type basis.

The world's favorite freighter - the 757-200F. FedEx operates 104 of the type (all converted by ST Aero), with more in the pipeline.

The world’s favorite freighter – the 757-200F. FedEx operates 104 of the type (all converted by ST Aero), with more in the pipeline.

The active narrowbody fleet is dominated by three types: The 757-200F accounts for 42.6% (256 of the 601 total), followed by the 737-300F (22.6%), and 737-400F (14.1%). 727-200Fs account for just over 10% of the fleet, but while the numbers of 757-200s and 737-300s and -400s will increase significantly over the next two years, the 727-200s – which once dominated the narrowbody fleet – will be retired. Retirement will also be the fate of the few remaining 727-100Fs, DC‑9Fs, 737-200Fs, and BAe146QTs. The number of MD-80Fs in operation will grow steadily for at least the next few years, but probably only at a rate of two or three per year. As we will discuss in Part III, conversion programs for 737-700s/-800s and A320/A321s have been launched, but these types will not begin entering the fleet until 2018, and will not account for a significant percentage of the total until several years after that.

Looking at the fleet on an end-user basis: Who operates 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. FedEx, UPS, DHL, China Postal, SF, TNT… But that first glance actually under-represents the importance of the express 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) actually operate their freighters for one of the express companies.

The 757-200F leads the way in this respect, with (by our estimate) 97% operated by or for express companies. From there, the percentage declines to 93% of the BAe146QTs, 72% of 737‑400Fs, 68% of 737-300Fs, and 18% of the 727-200Fs. Overall, about 71% of narrowbody freighters in service today are operated by or for the express companies.

Narrobody freighters by regionLooking at the fleet on a regional basis: 86% of the narrowbody freighters are operated in the three major geographical regions. 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 and TNT have a big presence, is home to 24%, and the rapid growth of e-commerce in China has boosted the share of narrowbodies in the Asia-Pacific region to 21%. The remaining 14% are split among the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa.

However, as can be seen in the charts at right, including only freighters with currently available conversion programs changes the percentage distribution considerably. The newer types are concentrated in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific regions, while the older types are disproportionately located in Africa and Latin America.

Read Part I here.

Read Part III here.


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