The distribution of widebody freighters — Part II

  • David Harris
  • March 6, 2018
  • 0

747 freighters continue to play a major role in the air freight industry. As they age, what will replace them?

Yesterday we began an analysis of the way the 1,035 widebody freighters in service as of 31 January are operated and how the different types of widebody freighters are distributed within the fleet by type. You can read Part I here, and today we conclude with an examination of the distribution by manufacturer, by operator type, and by geographical region.

In terms of the composition of the fleet today, the continuing strong demand for the 767-300F pushed Boeing’s share of the medium widebody fleet to 52.3% last year, and that has increased to 56.1% this year. With outstanding orders for sixty-three 767-300Fs, as opposed to just four A330-200Fs, and the boom in 767-300BCF/BDSF conversions, Boeing’s share will grow substantially over the next few years. There will come a day when growing demand for A330-300P2F conversions will slow this trend, but that day is still some way off.

Boeing continues to have the large-capacity freighter segment to itself. The in-service numbers reflect a growing quantity of 777 and 747-8 freighters, but, as noted in Part I of this analysis, the number of 747 Classic, MD-11 and MD/DC-10-30 freighters in service declined. Some of the MD-11Fs and 747-400F/ERFs may be re-activated, but the number will not be large.

The outstanding orders in the large capacity segment include twenty-five 747 8Fs (down from thirty-two last year) and thirty 777Fs (down from thirty-seven). The total of fifty-five is down fourteen from last year, a significant decline.

The table at right shows the distribution of widebody freighters by category of airline and by the region in which airlines are domiciled. The categories of airline used in this analysis are combination carriers (that is, carriers such as Lufthansa, Cathay, etc., that operate both passenger and freighter aircraft); express carriers (DHL, FedEx, etc.); scheduled-service all-cargo carriers (e.g. Cargolux and AirBridgeCargo Airlines); and specialist all-cargo carriers (e.g. Atlas Air and Air Atlanta Icelandic). Note that members of the specialist group operate most of their freighters on an ACMI or CMI basis in support of combination and express carriers.

Several interesting factors become apparent when examining how widebody freighters are used:

  • While only 63% of the medium-capacity widebody freighters are operated today by express carriers, almost all of the 21% operated by the specialist carriers are operated for the express carriers. Add in the ten 767-300Fs that All Nippon Airways operates in its own express network, and the express total rises to more than 85%.
  • Large-capacity freighters, once predominantly used by combination carriers, are now almost equally used by express operators – perhaps even more so, after adding the freighters ACMI leased by DHL from specialty operators such as Polar Air Cargo and Kalitta Air.
  • On an overall basis, taking into account both the medium- and large-capacity freighter types, express carriers have a 47% share of the global widebody freighter fleet, versus 24% for combination carriers, 10% for scheduled-service all-cargo carriers and 19% for specialist all-cargo operators. But again, we note that many of the ACMI operators fly for the express companies.
  • More than 70% of the medium widebody freighters are operated by airlines based in North America, nearly all by, or in support of, the integrators and, more recently, for Amazon. This is up slightly from last year, and future deliveries indicate the North American share will increase going forward. FedEx, UPS, and the airline subsidiaries of Air Transport Services Group and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings are the main operators, with Kalitta Air entering the game last year.
  • North America-based carriers operate 43% of the large-capacity widebody freighters (up from 40% last year), while Asia/Pacific carriers have a 26% share (down from 28%). But while most of the large widebodies in North America are operated by Express or ACMI carriers, most of those in Asia (and in Europe) are operated by combination carriers and scheduled-service all-cargo carriers – although it is worth noting that Atlas operates about ten 747 freighters on an ACMI basis for Asian carriers. A look at the outstanding orders for large widebody freighters shows that the North American share will continue to increase.

Those interested in learning more about the current makeup and future growth of the widebody freighter fleet should join us at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai, April 25-26, where the subject will be explored from many viewpoints. For more information, or to register, go to


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