Yesterday, in Part I of this three-part analysis, we began with an overview of the worldwide narrowbody jet freighter fleet as it stood at the end of October 2016, then looked at the currently available and recently launched passenger-to-freighter conversion programs, concluding with the observation that, even before the first freighter has been redelivered from any of the new programs, Aeronautical Engineers, Inc, Bedek Aviation Group, and Boeing have already booked a total of 104 firm orders and 70 options/commitments for their 737-700 and -800 programs.
Turning from the future fleet 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 44.4% (287 of the 647 total), followed by the 737-300F (21.0%), and 737-400F (15.5%). 727-200Fs account for just over 9% of the fleet, but while the numbers of 757-200s and 737-300s and -400s will increase significantly in the next few 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 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 two or three per year.
As mentioned above, AEI is about to redeliver the first freighter-converted CRJ200F. In fact, AEI has firm orders for twenty-two CRJ200 conversions and options/commitments for twenty-three more, so it will not be long before the CRJ accounts for a small, but significant, percentage of the fleet.
And, looking ahead, the first 737NGs and A320/A321s will begin entering the fleet in 2018, but it will be some time before they account for a significant percentage of the total.
Who operates these 647 narrowbody freighters? It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at the chart in yesterday’s post 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 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.
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 BAe 146QTs, 77% of 737 400Fs, 68% of 737-300Fs, and 18% of the 727-200Fs. Overall, about 74% of narrowbody freighters in service today are operated by or for the express companies.
Looking at the fleet on a regional basis: 86% of the narrowbody freighters are operated in the three major geographical regions. Of these, 40%, 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 22%, and the rapid growth of e-commerce in China has boosted the share of narrowbodies in the Asia-Pacific region to 23%. 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. 93% of 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.
We will conclude our three-part analysis of the narrowbody jet freighter fleet tomorrow, with a look at the passenger-to-freighter conversion market in 2016, and ahead in 2017. You can read Part I here, and Part III here.