Today we begin a three-part analysis of the worldwide fleet of narrowbody jet freighters with a look at the overall composition of the fleet – how many of the different types are in operation by which carriers. Tomorrow, in Part II, we will look at the seventeen (yes, seventeen) active conversion programs for the eight narrowbody freighter types currently available. Finally, in Part III, we will break down the fleet on a type-by-type basis, with a focus on express vs. general cargo, and then by regional distribution.
As we have observed the narrowbody jet freighter fleet over the years through late 2016, perhaps the most striking development was the huge increase in the number of 757-200s flying in freighter configuration. In October 2016 we counted 287 in operation, making it, by a considerable margin, the most popular jet freighter of any type – narrowbody or widebody. Fast forward eighteen months to the end of March 2018, and the 757-200 is still by far the most popular jet freighter in operation, but the total number of 757Fs flying today has increased by just five units, to 292 during that eighteen-month period.
Some slowing in the rate of growth was to be expected, as FedEx had completed its massive 757-200F fleet build-up by mid-2015, but still, an increase of just five in eighteen months? The answer, of course, is not that demand for 757 freighters is waning, but rather that time is catching up to the older units, and retirements are beginning to slow the growth of the operating fleet. In fact, since our last review, there have been nineteen 757 freighters added, but this has been almost balanced by fourteen retirements, leaving a net gain of five. In all, 318 757-200s have been converted from passenger to freighter configuration, and 292 of them are still flying.
There are still more widebody freighters in operation than narrowbody, and the balance has been relatively constant over the last year-and-a-half, with narrowbodies making up about 39% of the total commercial jet freighter fleet. We say “about 39%” because there is more than one way to count the fleet. For purposes of this analysis, we have chosen not to include the few remaining 707Fs and DC-8Fs, nor do we include aircraft in combi configuration. We do include some aircraft in Quick Change configuration, but only if we believe them to be operated full time, or much of the time, as freighters. And while it could be argued that the BAe 146QTs are not true narrowbodies, we choose to include them.
Using these guidelines, we find that, as of late March 2018, there are 673 narrowbody freighters, of eleven types, in commercial operation by 111 carriers, up from 650 eighteen months ago – an increase of twenty-four units, or 3.7%. Of the 111 carriers, fifty-five operate just one or two freighters, and the chart shows only those carriers operating three or more.
The current and future composition of the narrowbody freighter fleet will be a major subject of interest at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai, 23 – 25 April. In addition to a session devoted specifically to narrowbodies, we will also have a presentation based on this year’s Twenty-Year Freighter Forecast.
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