In the last few days Cathay Pacific announced it had converted two of its 777-300ER’s into ‘preighters’ for a new service it plans to start to Pittsburgh of all places.
They’ve removed the entire first, business and premium seating to allow full cargo use of the forward section of the aircraft.
This is all a continuing symptom of the deep seated need to maintain air freight capacity at what is usually the busiest quarter of the year anyway, with the run up to the Black Friday, Christmas and New Year seasons.
With growing demands again for PPE in Europe as cases of Covid begin the inexorable post-summer rise, and a seemingly unstoppable pandemic in the United States on a day that will see over 200,000 deaths in that country alone, and which Trump wilfully ignores, demand is again on a steep rise.
The worlds freighter fleets have been pared back over the years, having gone through a massive culling in 2012-14, and then a further pairing back a couple of years ago. As a result, while there is now just about enough to cope with peak demand for a normal year, there’s not enough to cope with the medically driven demand on top.
That’s provided a huge opportunity for the passenger airlines to operate their aircraft on virtually cargo-only flights and maintain a revenue stream when passenger flights are at their minimum. Just this morning I had another e-mail from AirFrance reminding me they were open for business and that they were operating just 30% of their 2019 schedule. Thats an industry wide problem.
In the last few days AerSale, based at Goodyear-Phoenix in Arizona, announced it had purchased no less than 24 757-200’s from ‘reputable top tier US airlines’. They plan on breaking some for parts but demand is so great at the moment they’re looking for as many as 16 of them as conversions to freighters.
What we do know is they’re all Rolls-Royce powered RB-211 engined 757’s, so they weren’t Delta’s which were all P&W’s.
Even so, that they think there is sufficient market for already elderly aircraft to be converted, underlines how short the world is on mid-haul cargo space right now.
If that wasn’t enough Boeing have now received orders for an additional pair of 737F conversions, adding to a pair that were ordered last month.
Out in China, specialists are preparing to start the conversion of a small number of A321’s and works is said to be accelerated on another project in Europe.
Thursday will see Lufthansa determine if its A380 and 744 fleets will be retired, and they’ve already made the choice to remove the MD-11F’s from the end of this year.
The question is will they now hold off on that decision until the current cargo bubble bursts? Some analysts say the bubble is far from over, because come next year the vaccine distribution programmes will require some 5 billion doses are shipped around the world, a process that will take most of a year from when initial production begins. Airports like Amsterdam and Heathrow are already gearing up their pharma hubs for vaccine transhipment and handling.
The one thing that will absolutely not get a reprieve is the 748F. Triumph who made the key fuselage panels has already closed down and demolished the factory where they were made. There are only enough sets to finish the current order book, so there’s no more to be had.
Another area that seems to have gone stale is the 744 conversion to freighters. The main reason is they’re expensive to fly coupled to the fact the source aircraft are basically just too worn out and old to spend the money on.
The next big thing in post 747 world is the 773ERF already under way in Israel in partnership with GE.