LONDON – At a press conference in Dubai earlier today, Boeing confirmed that it is in “advanced talks” with customers over a freighter variant of the 777X.
This was mentioned by the manufacturer’s Senior VP of Commercial Sales and Marketing, Ihssane Mounir who mentioned that the recovery in commercial aviation from the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a “strong foothold” in the last several months.
Such talks over a 777X Freighter come as no surprise, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the growth of cargo traffic over the last two years.
Avolon Holdings Ltd predicts that air cargo revenue will reach $150 billion by the end of this year, with traffic doubling over the next 20 years, hinting at the point that freighters may be the next step for manufacturers to pursue.
“We see strong freight demand today and for the foreseeable future,” says John Plueger, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Air Lease Corp.
Such strength of the market has already been seen, with the likes of Israel Aerospace Industries looking to convert 30 Airbus A330 passenger widebodies for freighter use that will enter service between 2025 and 2028.
That being said, for the 777X freighter, the announcement has a chance of being at the air show. The expected launch customer is dubbed to be Qatar Airways, but it is dependent on whether the airline skips the event due to geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.
Airbus is looking to do the same at this airshow, by trying to convince customers such as FedEx, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, and DHL to potentially make this sort of investment into a freighter variant of the A350.
Will this work?
Selling the 777XF and A350F would benefit both sides, with the pandemic slowing down demand for larger aircraft, and boosting demand for smaller jets as a result.
There is a question of whether marketing those two aircraft as freighters would work, especially with carriers taking on second-hand Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A330-300s for freighter use.
This of course could produce quite an over-saturated market, to which then Airbus and Boeing would have wasted a considerable amount of money.
The only angle that could be taken would be towards the fuel efficiency side, of offering customers better economics on newer freighters than spending less money on second-hand jets.
Of course, for the likes of Airbus, analysts believe that even if the A350F was a flop, it wouldn’t have to sell many in order for it to be a success.
The A350F is expected to handle around 109 tons of cargo and can offer a range of cruising the pacific ocean.
So, overall, the A350F and 777XF would face competitive challenges from aircraft further down in their own portfolio, but it is of course a gap that may need filling, even if they only sell 10-20 jets per year.