The widebody freighter fleet — Part II

  • David Harris
  • February 13, 2018
  • 0

One of the most interesting changes in the widebody freighter fleet over the last year was Etihad Airways parking its five A330-200Fs.

Yesterday, in Part I of this analysis of the widebody freighter fleet as it stood at the end of January 2018, we offered an overview of the entire fleet – which carriers are operating which freighters. We concluded Part I with a chart showing every airline that operates widebody jet freighters in commercial service, including the number of each type in their fleets. You can read Part I here. Today, we examine the ways in which the fleet has changed – both in the last twelve months and over the last few years. Tomorrow we will look at changes on an operator-by-operator basis, and also take a look at the current production freighter backlog, and the widebody conversion landscape.

While the total number of freighters in the fleet changed very little in the last twelve months, the composition of the fleet continued to evolve, as new freighters entered service and older types (and some newer types) were retired. Over the last year, twenty-nine new production freighters were delivered: seven 747-8Fs, nine 777Fs two A330-200Fs, and ten 767-300Fs – just one less than the thirty delivered the previous year.

In addition, a continuation of the resurgence of interest in passenger-to-freighter conversion of medium widebody aircraft that began in 2015 saw the redelivery of twenty-three freighter-converted 767-300s and two A300-600s. And, as the year drew to a close, EFW redelivered the first-ever freighter-converted A330-300P2F to launch customer DHL Express (which immediately handed it off to ASL Airlines Ireland for operation on a CMI basis).

Perhaps surprising, given the upsurge in demand, the last twelve months saw a net addition of just three previously-parked freighters to the in-service fleet – two 747-400Fs and one 767-200F. This is similar to 2016, when there was just one net reactivation, and a considerable drop from the eight in 2015 and thirteen in 2014. Increasing fuel prices undoubtedly had an impact, and unless there is a return to cheap fuel, we do not expect that many more widebody freighters will come out of the desert in the future.

Of course, there were retirements, too, although not as many as in the past. Over the past year, a net of nineteen freighters of six types left the fleet, including one 747-400ERF, nine 747 Classic freighters, two MD-11Fs, one DC/MD-10-30Fs, four A330-200Fs, and two A310-300Fs.

Regarding the 747 Classics: There are two or three still in irregular charter service, mostly in the CIS region, but their impact on the overall air freight market is so small that we have chosen to disregard them.

Overall, additions outweighed retirements, and the commercial widebody freighter fleet grew by thirty-three units, to 1,035.

While the number of any given freighter type is likely to change from year to year, one type has remained remarkably stable. The medium-widebody A300-600F has been a cornerstone of the express operators’ fleets almost since its introduction, and will remain important for several more years. There are currently 172 units in the fleet, no longer the largest number of any widebody type (the 767-300 took over that crown in 2017), and all but a handful are operated either by or for DHL, FedEx, and UPS. The A300-600 freighter fleet actually grew over the last twelve months, as two passenger units were converted to freighter configuration.

The big three express operators aren’t just the biggest operators of A300‑600Fs, but in fact account for well over half of the entire widebody freighter fleet. An exact count is difficult, because DHL, in addition to the freighters operated by carriers it either owns or in which it has a significant stake, also uses lift contracted from independent carriers. Likewise, UPS uses Denmark-based Star Air to operate a fleet of eleven 767-200Fs/- 300Fs on its behalf. Add in FedEx, SF Express, and, this year, STO Express, as well as the freighters operated for Amazon and Purolator, and it is clear that almost 58% of the world’s widebody freighter fleet is operated by or for the express companies (up from about 56% last year).

This 58% is not spread evenly among the various types, however. The express companies account for about 37% of the large widebody freighters. This is a significant percentage, but pales when compared to the 79% of the medium- widebody fleet operated by or for Amazon, DHL, FedEx, Purolator, SF, STO, and UPS.

Want to learn more about the future of the air freight industry, particularly in regard to the growth and distribution of freighter aircraft? Then join us at this year’s Cargo Facts Asia, to be held 23-25 April at the Mandarin Oriental Pudong in Shanghai. To check out this year’s agenda, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.

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