Boeing continues to discuss the prospects of a dedicated 777X freighter. On Thursday, the big Chicago-based plane manufacturer said it was “evaluating the timing of a freighter version of the 777X.”
A formal announcement regarding a 777X freighter is expected soon
Boeing dropped that line into a third quarterly update. It will fuel recent speculation regarding the 777X freighter. Industry experts have been expecting a formal announcement and launch of the 777X freighter program, potentially at November’s Dubai Air Show.
There is also speculation Doha-based Qatar Airways is lining up as the launch customer. Rumors swirl regarding discussions with Boeing for an order of up to 30 freighters. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has helped fan those rumors in several media interviews this year.
Qatar Airways already has 60 777X passenger jets on order with Boeing. It is likely a portion of that order could get converted into freighters. Sources say Boeing is also talking with FedEx, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, and DHL.
While formally launching a 777X freighter can be viewed as a response to Airbus recently announcing they would produce a freighter version of the A350, demand for dedicated freighters is stronger than ever, and Boeing is likely keen to tap into that.
Boeing has historically commanded a dominant position in the freighter market. But Airbus has performed strongly in the last decade, while groundings and scandal have hampered Boeing. Airbus can potentially harness that momentum and erode Boeing’s market share.
Airbus anticipates producing A350 freighters by 2025 – well before any 777X freighter would start flying.
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Boeing fights to retain freighter dominance
Pandemic-related supply chain disruptions have shone a spotlight on the air freight industry. The bulk of air freight gets flown in the cargo holds of scheduled passenger flights. But the number of passenger flights scheduled is down on pre-pandemic levels.
Airfreight costs more than ground and sea freight. But long-running log jams in key container hubs, soaring container costs, and capacity-constrained infrastructure is seeing air freighters fly more cargo than ever.
Getting a new widebody 777X freighter onto the market may also give Boeing’s troubled 777X program some uplift. After years of delays, the controversial 777X program is finally making some progress. The plane’s commercial debut is now expected in two years’ time.
“Commonality with previous versions of the 777 freighter should make this model highly competitive,” BI senior aerospace industry analyst George Ferguson told Bloomberg Intelligence. “Its larger size likely gives it an edge over the A350.”
While the demand for freight aircraft is strong, much of that demand is typically filled by converting retired passenger planes into freighters. The market for used and converted freighters is booming.
That means Boeing is not just competing with Airbus, it is competing against the freighters available on the used aircraft market. To date, Boeing hasn’t given much away about any 777X freighter. They have said the plane would be sized between the 777-8 and the 777-9 models. That would be a significantly bigger plane than Boeing’s current 777 freighter offering.
Despite a move by Airbus into freighters, many industry insiders believe Boeing’s traditional dominance in the freighter industry will remain intact. But an aggressive Airbus is forcing Boeing’s hand and is pushing them towards producing a 777X freighter to retain that market dominance.