Air China took delivery of its first 777-300ER last July – and over the last year, it has ramped up a fleet of seven of the big twins, enough to launch them on a variety of long-range routes after initially training crews on short-hauls within Asia. B-2089 (msn: 38675) was the fifth ship to be delivered, back on Feb. 6, 2012. Later that same month, Air China Cargo’s Chief Operating Officer, Titus Diu, indicated in an interview with Air Cargo News that the new aircraft would eventually be deployed on a range of international routes from Shanghai, including: Milan, Los Angeles, and Paris.
Notably, the subject of Diu’s words was cargo – not Air China’s passenger operations. In Diu’s words: “The 777[-300ER] will be daily, with 28-30 tonnes of cargo capacity, so that will be an excellent supplement to our twice-weekly freighter operation, and a good way to strengthen our air cargo market position.”
That statement highlights the value of the 777-300ER as a strategic cargo asset, even though its primary mission is passenger carriage. A daily 777-300ER flight can represent up to 200 tonnes of cargo per week, as long as the flight is not load restricted.
In the case of the route in Diu’s example, large widebody combination frequencies can bolster main-deck freighter services. They can also provide considerable lift to destinations where freighter service would not be sustainable, or supplement reduced freighter frequencies when demand is low. Couple this with a good route network, and these big twins can provide payload nearly equivalent to one 757 sized freighter to almost anywhere in the world within 24 hours. This also means that belly space on the big twins comes with the economies of scale of a large operator – making it much harder for smaller outfits dependent on their local markets, many of which are seeing increasing penetration from the newer wide bodies (and not just the 777-300ER).
The 777-300ER and its rivals, the now-discontinued A340-600 and the upcoming A350, are offering, in increasing numbers, cargo capacity that could not be offered by previous generations of aircraft. Modern jet powerplants have increased both size and range to challenge the former status quo. As such, the production of such aircraft is changing the dynamics of the freighter market and of cargo operations.
Next week, Air Cargo Management Group will be presenting a teleconference on the subject of freighter overcapacity, in advance of making available a new report entitled “The Freighter Overcapacity Threat.”
©Photographer: Alex Kwanten