Production freighter orders in 2018 part I: the year of the 777F

Today, we begin our two-part analysis of production freighter aircraft orders and deliveries during 2018, with a look at the industry trends supporting one of the strongest years for widebody freighter orders over the past decade. Later this week, we’ll continue with a breakdown of orders and deliveries by model.

After a lackluster 2017 for production freighter orders, 2018 saw a dramatic rebound in the number of orders. As shown in the attached chart, carriers worldwide ordered eighty-five widebody production freighters during 2018 – well above the five-year average net total of forty-three, and higher than any recent year except 2015, which saw a net total of ninety orders thanks to an especially large order of fifty 767-300Fs from FedEx.

Following the exceptional period of growth began in mid-2016 and continued through 2017, it is not surprising that 2018 would be marked by a resurgence in production freighter orders. Of the eighty-five orders, sixty-one of those – or about 72% – were placed by major integrators FedEx, UPS, and DHL, which have all invested heavily to accommodate expanding cross-border e-commerce markets, and the resulting demand for international express deliveries.

Starting with deliveries, thirty-seven production freighters went primarily to integrators and operators in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region. While Boeing predicted in its World Air Cargo Forecast 2018 that Asia markets, particularly China, will experience the greatest air cargo growth over the next two decades, among Asian carriers, only ANA Holdings, parent company of Japan-based All Nippon Airways (ANA), placed an order for new production freighters during 2018, and only Taiwan-based EVA Air took delivery of a production freighter. Instead, Asian operators, including SF Airlines and China Postal Airlines, are opting for used widebody and converted freighters, as noted in the most recent Cargo Facts Asian freighter fleet analysis. However, in support of e-commerce growth from China, Volga-Dnepr Group, which was recently named the preferred carrier of Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao, placed an order for five 747-8Fs.

While deliveries continued apace throughout the year, orders tapered off significantly following the Farnborough Air Show in July (where the majority of the orders were announced), and during the fourth quarter of the year, only Turkish Cargo placed an order for additional production freighters. Whether the market will see another wave this year remains to be seen, but with a plethora of freighter conversion programs and a good deal of added capacity from those freighters already ordered and delivered, alongside growing concerns about cross-border trade arising from protectionist sentiment and economic uncertainty, we at Cargo Facts would not be surprised to see carriers take a more measured approach to the freighter market during the year ahead.

Those interested in learning more about trends in freighter aircraft operations are invited to join us Cargo Facts EMEA, to be held 4-6 February at The Westin Grand Frankfurt.  To register or for more information, visit www.cargofactsemea.com.

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