The widebody freighter fleet – Part II

The A300-600F has been the most popular widebody freighter for many years, but it will be overtaken by the 767-300F by this time next year. Photo: Shimin Gu/Wikimedia

The A300-600F has been the most popular widebody freighter for many years, but it will be overtaken by the 767-300F by this time next year. Photo: Shimin Gu/Wikimedia

We began this year’s analysis of the worldwide widebody freighter fleet yesterday, with a look at the composition of the fleet on a carrier-by-carrier basis, making particular note of the fact that despite an 18.5% increase in cargo traffic over the last five years, the total number of freighters in the fleet, and their total payload has remained almost unchanged. You can read Part I here, and today, in Part II, we look at what has changed within the fleet. (You can read Part III here, and Part IV here.)

While the total number of freighters in the fleet changed only slightly in the last twelve months (indeed, in the last five years), the composition of the fleet continued to evolve, as new freighters entered service and older types were retired. Over the last year, thirty new production freighters were delivered: six 747-8Fs, ten 777Fs, three A330-200Fs, and eleven 767-300Fs. This is considerably fewer than the forty-seven delivered in 2015, but a continuation of the resurgence of interest in passenger-to-freighter conversion of widebody aircraft that began in 2015 saw the redelivery of fourteen freighter-converted 767-300s and two A300-600s.

Change in Widebody freighter fleet Feb 17In a change from recent years, when low fuel prices led carriers to bring parked freighters back into service, the last twelve months saw a net addition of just one formerly-parked unit, as the number of DC-10-30Fs in service increased from sixteen to seventeen. This is a considerable drop from the eight net reactivations in 2015 and thirteen in 2014. With fuel prices again on the increase, we do not expect that many more widebody freighters will come out of the desert in the future.

Of course there were retirements, too. Over the past year, a net of forty freighters of ten types left the fleet, including three 747-400ERFs, six 747-400Fs, seven 747-400BCFs/BDSFs, six MD-11Fs, six DC/MD-10-10Fs, two 767-200Fs, one A300B4F, and two A310-300Fs.

Overall, additions slightly outweighed retirements, and the commercial widebody freighter fleet grew by seven units, to 1,002.
Through the last few years of widebody freighter additions and retirements, one type has remained remarkably stable. The medium-widebody A300-600F has been a cornerstone of the express operators’ fleets almost since its introduction, and will remain important for several more years. There are currently 170 units in the fleet, the largest number of any widebody type (although the 767-300 will take that crown next year), and all but a handful are operated either by or for DHL, FedEx, and UPS. The A300-600 freighter fleet actually grew over the last twelve months as two passenger units were converted to freighter configuration.

The big three express operators aren’t just the biggest operators of A300-600Fs, but in fact account for over half of the entire widebody freighter fleet. An exact count is difficult, because DHL, in addition to the freighters operated by carriers it either owns or has a significant stake in, also uses lift contracted from independent carriers. Likewise, UPS uses Denmark-based Star Air to operate a fleet of eleven 767-200Fs/-300Fs on its behalf. Add in FedEx (and, this year, Amazon Prime and SF Express) and it is clear that about 56% of the world’s widebody freighter fleet is operated by or for the big express companies (up from about 53% last year). This 56% is not spread evenly among the various types, however. The express companies account for about 36% of the large widebody freighters. This is a significant percentage, but pales when compared to the 75% of the medium-widebody fleet operated by or for Amazon, DHL, FedEx, SF, and UPS.

Tomorrow, in Part III, we will turn from widebody freighter aircraft to the carriers that operate them, with a look at who’s new this year, and who’s gone from last year.

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