From the very beginning of development of the 787 Family, Boeing said it would design the aircraft with the plan of eventually offering it in freighter configuration. The key word, of course, was “eventually.” No one expected a 787 Freighter to be offered until well after the passenger variants had been in production for many years, and the important aspect of the 787 to the cargo community has been that it has plenty of belly capacity for an airplane of its size.
But with the Paris Air Show providing a big stage for the manufacturers to announce not just orders, but also new programs and developments, Boeing unveiled plans for not one, but two new freighter programs: one for the 787, and one for the 777X – the latter coming as something of a surprise, given that the 777X program has not even been formally launched.
In an interview during the Air Show, Boeing Commercial Airplanes VP Mike Bair said the company had settled on the 787-9 as the variant to be produced in freighter configuration, although he pointed out that this would not happen soon. Mr. Bair said: “At some point in the far distant future the -9 is the freighter platform. It’s the longest-range version and because of that it ends up being the highest-density freighter that we could make.” He also pointed out that Boeing had designed the 787-9’s fuselage so that a cargo door could be installed without disrupting any of the aircraft’s systems.
Looking equally far into the future, he said the same logic had led to the decision to use the 777-8X as the eventual replacement for the 777F. The -8X, with expected 9.400 nm capability, will be the long-range member of the 777X Family and will be that family’s next freighter.
Since the 787-9 has not yet flown, and the 777X has not been launched, it will likely be many years before the first freighter from either family enters service. In the meantime, Boeing will continue to offer three production freighters: 767-300F, 777F, and 747-8F.
Airbus currently offers its A330-200 as a production freighter, and has said it will offer a freighter variant from the A350 Family at some point in the future (although, like Boeing, it has not provided a firm schedule).