Accelerating redelivery rates have meant that the number of 737-700 and -800 freighters grew exponentially throughout 2022, although it took close to five years for the worldwide active fleet to reach 100 in the first quarter of the year.
The first 737NG conversion program was certified in 2017. As of Dec. 31, 2022, there were a total of 143 737NG freighters in service with forty-four airlines around the world, based on Cargo Facts research.
Figure 1 below shows these aircraft — including 737-700BDSFs, 737-700FCs, 737-800BCFs, 737-800BDSFs and 737-800SFs — along with their current operators.
|ASL Airlines Belgium||12||0||0||0||0|
|ASL Airlines France||5||0||0||0||0|
|ASL Airlines Ireland||3||0||7||0||0|
|China Central Longhao Airlines||4||0||0||0||0|
|China Postal Airlines||7||0||0||0||0|
|Compass Air Cargo||0||0||3||0||0|
|Express Air Cargo||0||0||1||0||0|
|Kalitta Charters II||0||2||0||0||0|
|My Indo Airlines||1||0||0||0||0|
|Northern Air Cargo||0||0||1||0||0|
|Sun Country Airlines||12||0||0||0||0|
|Tianjin Air Cargo||3||0||0||1||0|
|West Atlantic Sweden||3||0||1||0||0|
|West Atlantic UK||1||0||0||0||0|
|World Cargo Airlines||2||0||0||0||0|
|∑ = 89||∑ = 10||∑ = 34||∑ = 8||∑ = 2|
-800s and the U.S. in pole position
This list does not include freighters that have completed conversion but have not yet entered service and, in the case of six 737-800BCFs previously in service with Russia-based Atran, freighters that are not actively flying.
The -800 is clearly the preferred model for conversion, with 132 units in the active fleet worldwide and only ten -700s.
Of the -800s, eighty-nine were Boeing BCFs, ten were Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) BDSFs and thirty-four were Aeronautical Engineers Inc. (AEI) SFs, while the ten -700s consisted of eight IAI BDSFs and two PEMCO FlexCombis.
When it comes to the countries where the 143 737NGs are placed, the United States continues to lead the pack with thirty-five overall. The U.S. in 2022 gained two more 737-800F operators: Kalitta Charters II with two DHL-owned -800BDSFs and Northern Air Cargo with its first 737-800SF on lease from Aero Capital Solutions.
|∑ = 133||∑ = 10|
A growing worldwide footprint
China, which only had twelve 737NG freighters in March 2022, has grown its contingent to twenty-one, solidifying its position in second place. These twenty-one freighters are spread across six different operators, with Central Airlines, JD Airlines and Shandong Airlines all joining the list.
Belgium and Ireland follow with twelve and ten, respectively; all of these are in operation with the ASL Aviation Group.
Since March 2022, six more countries have become home to 737NG freighters: Brazil, Indonesia, Panama, Rwanda, Slovakia and Tunisia.
Although there have been a handful of very young 737-800s converted — including a 2011-vintage BCF currently flying with China Postal Airlines — the majority of 737-800Fs still appear to be between 2000- and 2002-vintage, with popular vintages being 2004-2007. Figure 3 shows the full age range of the in-service 737NG freighter fleet.
More lines and lessors
With conversion backlogs racking up, 737-800 conversion providers began using more new sites to satisfy the demand. Boeing inducted the first units at its new lines at its own Gatwick (LGW) facility and the Cooperativa Autogestionaria de Servicios Aeroindustriales (COOPESA) facility in San Jose (SJO), Costa Rica, while IAI started converting a 737-800 at its partially owned Belinco facility in Yichang (YIH).
While the size of conversion orders seen in 2022 may not have been on the same scale as in the previous two years, there was a healthy level of activity from the leasing and trading community, with Cargo Facts reporting at least five new companies planning to enter the 737NG freighter segment.
Titan Aircraft Investments told Cargo Facts in May 2022 that it had signed a deal to convert two 737-800s with AEI; one has now been delivered on lease to Georgian Airlines while the other will soon enter service with ASL Airlines.
Merx Aviation ferried what would become its first 737-800 freighter to Kelowna (YLW) in April ahead of induction for conversion with AEI; that aircraft was subsequently delivered on lease to RwandAir in November 2022, becoming the African carrier’s first freighter.
Jackson Square Aviation (JSA), which has around forty 737-800s in its portfolio, has decided to invest in the latest generation of narrowbody freighters by signing a deal to convert six 737-800s with AEI with redeliveries starting in 2024, while China Aircraft Leasing Group Holdings (CALC) also placed a conversion order for a single 737-800SF.
Meanwhile, Aero Capital Solutions (ACS) and BlackRock, both already two of AEI’s largest customers, each topped up their respective 737-800SF conversion orderbooks, with ACS adding six more for a total of forty.
2023 has already seen one new 737-800F operator in India-based Quikjet; more will join the list as conversions are completed and redelivered, with Cargo Facts expecting other additions including Westjet, Blue Dart Aviation, Asia Cargo Airlines, EgyptAir, Aerolineas Argentinas and Sideral.
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