The Next Big Market: Converted Freighters

There’s a new market on the horizon and its one that you might be familiar with already. As the pandemic pushes up demand for cargo, more airlines are turning to converted freighters to fill this role. The most popular converted freighter in the coming years is set to be 777CF, with several companies racing to produce it. Let’s find out more.

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Several companies have thrown their hat in the ring for the 777 conversion project with Boeing’s blessing. Photo: GE/IAI

All important

When the pandemic first hit last year, airlines quickly grounded passenger flights and looked to reduce costs. This posed a problem for the global cargo industry: more than 50% of all aircraft freight is flown in the belly of passenger aircraft. With flights down by over 90%, companies faced higher costs and low availability.

Airlines weren’t too far behind, though. Seeing the opportunity, carriers deployed all of their dedicated freighters and even turned to ‘preighters’ (passenger aircraft with seats removed) to increase overall capacity. The quick pivot was crucial to surviving the pandemic for some and even brought in a profit for others.

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Even today, dozens of passenger planes are flying only with loads of cargo to meet the demand. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

However, this solution is not sustainable. As passenger traffic rebounds in the coming years, cargo availability will shrink again. However, demand will remain on the up-and-up as online e-commerce and supply chain markets soar. To get in on the action, airlines have chosen to buy planes, not new ones, but converted freighters.

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The Big Twin

The 777 has been the most popular widebody family in history, with over 1,670 planes produced. As the second generation comes closer to retirement age, i.e., the 777-300ER, the market for converted freighters could be huge. Several companies have taken notice of this and leading the pack are GECAS and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

Known as the Big Twin project, it launched in October 2019, well before the pandemic thrust cargo into the spotlight. Since then, the results have been impressive, with IAI and GECAS moving faster than the original timeline. The new plane will be known as the 777-300ERSF.

The Next Big Market: Converted Freighters
Kalitta Air will be the launch customer of the 777-300ERSF globally, and the first converted 777 operator. Photo: GECAS

The Big Twin project has been flying smoothly too, running ahead of its planned schedule. Once it clears the regulatory hurdles of receiving a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC), the plane could be flying by early 2022, making it the first offering to do so. However, it won’t be the only one.

More coming

Since the 777 converted freighter is not a clean-sheet design, other companies are taking a stab at designing their own too. Last month, Mammoth Freighter announced their 777CF offering, which includes a plan for existing 777 operators and new ones. For now, there is clearly interest from all corners, with new airlines also placing big orders to get ahead of the crowd.

For now, the 777 converted freighter market is looking more crowded than ever. With hundreds of orders on the line, a new market is on the horizon, and there are several competitors looking to fight for them.

What do you think about the future of converted freighters? Let us know in the comments!

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