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Planemakers prepare for freight aircraft demand surge

written by Isabella Richards | November 15, 2021
Airbus’ A350-1000, shortly after an ATTOL vision-based take-off. (Airbus)

Planemakers are gearing up for a rise in freight demand as Boeing opens up three new freighter conversion lines and Airbus inches closer to launching the A350 freighter.

Boeing said it is also in advanced talks to sell the freighter version of its 777X aircraft, after previously flagging it as a strong possibility.

The announcements come as planemakers display their jets at the biennial Dubai Airshow, which is continuing until 18 November.

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In a statement, the Boeing announced plans to add the new conversion lines for the 737-800 aircraft across North America and Europe.

Starting on 2022, the company will open one at Boeing’s London Gatwick maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in the UK, and two on 2023 at KF Aerospace MRO in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

Boeing forecasts 1,720 freighter conversions will be needed over the next 20 years to meet demand.

The company expects nearly 20 per cent of the demand will come from Europe and 30 per cent from North and Latin America.

“Building a diverse and global network of conversion facilities is critical to supporting our customers’ growth and meeting regional demand,” said Jens Steinhagen, director of Boeing Converted Freighters.

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“KF Aerospace and our Boeing teammates at London Gatwick have the infrastructure, capabilities and expertise required to deliver market-leading Boeing Converted Freighters to our customers.”

The 737-800 is Boeing’s standard-body freighter with over 200 orders and commitments across 19 different customers, the company says.

Boeing also signed a firm order with Iceland-based aircraft lessor Icelease for 11 of the freighters and will be a launch customer for the London conversion line.

“We are confident in the quality and proven record of Boeing’s 737-800 converted freighter and pleased to be the launch customer for their new London MRO facility,” said Magnus Stephensen, senior partner at Icelease.

Icelease will use the freighter to serve its domestic and short-haul routes, according to Stephensen.

Boeing is set to open more in the future, which will see the company operate freighter conversion lines across North America, Europe and also Asia, the company says.

On Saturday at the air show, Ihssane Mounir, senior vice-president of commercial sales and marketing at Boeing said the company is in discussions with a number of customers for the 777X freighter.

“[It] looks good from a design standpoint and a requirements standpoint,” he said.

Qatar Airways has flagged continuous interest in being the 777X freighter’s launch customer, pledging the airline would place a large order to meet demand.

Airbus, Boeing’s European competitor said it expects cargo demand – which has been boosted by e-commerce – will see an expected growth of 4.7 per cent per year.

The company added it would see general cargo – which represents around 75 per cent of the market – grow 2.7 per cent per year.

The planemaker expects to announce a launch order for its long-awaited wide-body A350 freighter “soon” according to chief commercial officer Christian Scherer, speaking at a news conference before the air show.

Currently, the A350 freighter is slated to enter service in 2025 and sources told Bloomberg Airbus is in discussions with lessor Air Lease Corp. and another company for an order, but final agreements are yet to be revealed.

“I am quite happy with the market response around the world and in the region to the A350 freighter,” he added.

The cargo aircraft would compete against Boeing’s 777 freighter, but Airbus is slated to launch the A350 cargo aircraft to steal back some share of the Boeing-dominated market.

The planemaker has failed to sell a freighter since 2015, however, a stronglyrequested cargo variant of its popular widebody A350 could see it spark new competition in the Boeing-dominated freighter market.

Airbus expects over the next 20 years, 2,440 freighters will be in demand and 880 of which will be new build.

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