The next generation of “invisible freighters” is coming

During a chat with Emirates cargo boss Ram Menen last year I mentioned that many people found it surprising that Emirates could become one of the world’s biggest cargo carriers without operating very many freighters. He just smiled and said that in fact he operated a huge fleet of “invisible freighters” — the belly holds of Emirates’ eighty-odd 777-300ERs.

Now that Boeing’s Board of Directors has granted the company authority to offer upgraded versions of its 777 Family of twin-aisle widebody aircraft to customers (under the code name 777X), we wonder what the next generation of “invisible freighters” will look like.

The 777 has been Boeing’s most profitable commercial airliner, thanks primarily to the -300ER variant, launched in 2004. In addition to all of the things that have made it successful as a passenger aircraft (twin-engine economics in a 365-seat airplane not least among them) the 777-300ER offers carriers 25 to 30 tonnes (depending on route) of cargo payload, even with a full passenger load –- almost the equivalent of having a 757 freighter flying alongside on every flight (Ram’s invisible freighter). Specifications for the new 777X family have not been announced, but it is expected that Boeing will offer a 400-seat variant (the 777-9X) as a stretched, re-engined and re-winged replacement for the 777-300ER.

While nothing has been said about cargo capability, the importance of that capability to the carriers that operate the -300ER (to say nothing of competition from Airbus’ A350-1000) means the 777-9X will almost certainly be as capable in that department –- if not more capable –- than the -300ER it replaces.

Tim Clark, President of Dubai-based Emirates, the world’s largest 777 operator, said the carrier plans to replace “a large chunk” of its current 777 fleet with the 777X — more “invisible freighters.”

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