The widebody freighter fleet part II: fastest-growing carrier fleets

We began this year’s analysis of the worldwide widebody freighter fleet yesterday, with a look at the composition of the fleet on a carrier-by-carrier basis. You can review part I here. Here in part II, we look at what has changed within the fleet, and growth by carrier. In part III, we conclude with a review of operators that began or ceased widebody freighter operations in 2018, and look ahead to the future trajectory of the widebody freighter fleet.  

As the total freighter fleet grew over the last twelve months, the composition of the fleet continued to evolve, with new freighters entering service and older types (and some newer types) retiring. A total of thirty-three production freighters were delivered, slightly higher than the total of thirty-one aircraft redelivered in 2017. Deliveries comprised of five 747-8Fs, fourteen 777Fs, and fourteen 767-300Fs.

In addition, a continuation of the resurgence of interest in passenger-to-freighter conversions of medium widebody aircraft that began in 2015 saw the redelivery of twenty-one freighter-converted 767-300s and a freighter-converted A330-200 to EgyptAir Cargo.

Compared to last year, when just three previously-parked freighters were added to the fleet, this year carriers brought seventeen widebody freighters back into service – six 747-400ERFs, two 747- 400BCFs, four 747-400BDSFs, three MD-11Fs, and two A300B4Fs.

A look at the fastest-growing widebody freighter fleets by carrier (below) provides some clarity into where reactivated aircraft are ending up. Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings’ carrier fleets added the largest net of freighters over the past year, including one 747-400BCF, two 747-400ERFs, and four 747-400Fs. Last year, Atlas’ fleet growth was also driven by an agreement to operate twenty freighter-converted 767-300Fs for Amazon on a CMI basis. Western Global added a net of four freighters to its fleet by reactivating three MD-11Fs and a 747-400BCF.

With the exception of Silk Way West Airlines and Turkish Airlines, the majority of the fastest-growing freighter fleets are operated by, or on behalf of, express integrators. Atlas Air increased its 747-400F fleet by seven units, UPS added five, and Silk Way West added four – two of which were ex-MAB Kargo that had long been in storage.

Of course, there were retirements, too, although not as many as in the past. Over the past year, a net of eleven freighters of three types left the fleet, including six DC/MD-10-30Fs, four 767-200Fs and one A300-600F. 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 seventy-four units, to 1,109.

While the number of any given freighter type is likely to change from year to year, particularly for airframes for which there exists an active production or conversion program, some out-of-production models continue to play a major role in both the express and general cargo markets. Although 747-400Fs have switched hands in recent years as operators modernize their fleets – and this has resulted in temporary declines in the overall 747-400F fleet in operation – the number of 747-400Fs in operation today remains unchanged from where it stood at the end of 2014, at 113 units.

What was previously the most popular medium-widebody aircraft in operation with express carriers, the A300-600F, continues to be operated in high numbers – down just one unit from last year, to 171 – but has continued to be outnumbered by the 767-300 after Amazon pushed the fleet higher in 2017. China-based Uni-Top may still yet put a few more freighter-converted A300-600Fs into service, but beyond that the sunset years are on the horizon for the A300-600F.

In part III, we conclude with a review of operators that began or ceased widebody freighter operations in 2018, and look ahead to the future trajectory of the widebody freighter fleet.

Those interested in learning more about widebody freighters and the forecasted growth of the global freighter fleet in the coming years are invited to join us at Cargo Facts Asia 2019, to be held 15-17 at the Langham Shanghai. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.

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