LONDON – Luxembourg-based cargo carrier Cargolux (CV) is considering purchasing the Boeing 777-300ER Freighter aircraft developed by IAI as it looks towards the next step in its fleet management program.
According to FlightGlobal, the airline’s CEO Richard Forson explained at the UK Aviation Club that the carrier has two options when it comes to acquiring new aircraft. The first is to look for a freighter version of newer-generation widebodies, which it has been doing with IAI, or convert older passenger aircraft like the Boeing 747 into freighter variants.
“The specific one we are looking very closely at is the conversion of the 777-300ER into a freighter, in which GECAS, together with IAI, are doing a programme.”
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Cargolux is evidently looking in the footsteps of Kalitta Air (K4), which became the launch customer for the 777-300ERSF by signing a deal for three units, with deliveries expected by 2023.
These aircraft will come from GECAS, was the first to place the order, as well as being co-investor on this project with Israel Aerospace Industries. Forson added in his remarks at the Club that the concepts of building freighter aircraft are going full circle.
“I’m keeping an eye on that and wondering if the whole freighter concept is now going full circle, where initially it started off as conversion of passenger aircraft and then it went into production freighters, and maybe are we getting back to a situation now where manufacturers are going to say the risk is too high.”
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Forson also indicated to the media that he is enthusiastic about a freighter variant of the upcoming Boeing 777X, but said that the current orderbook for passenger versions may result in there being no freighter version being launched.
He compared this to the overall success of the Airbus A350 program at the moment where the delivery and orders for hundreds of the aircraft “could potentially justify the development of a freighter.”
If Airbus did launch a freighter version of this aircraft, then Forson mentioned he would need to “look at whether those products meet my requirements.” It ultimately appears that Forson is trying to kickstart another variation of aircraft into play, but will be interesting to see whether it will be enough pressure for this to happen or not.
Excess 777-300ERs On The Way?
“There’s a huge feedstock of 777-300ERs in the market that will also be looking for a home one day,” Forson states. This means that the airline’s investment into new aircraft may not involve new-build jets.CV could be very crafty and acquire some of these aircraft with the intention of conversion and would end up being cheaper than the 747 Freighter variants.
On top of this, IAI will no doubt acquire some of these aircraft that are due to be retired as well, so the market does remain positively open for this sort of thing. Forson did concede eventually that this sort of aircraft will make an appearance at the airline.
“What we’ve done as an airline is taken the necessary steps to ensure the longevity of our 747 fleet as long as possible. [Eventually, the airline] will have a mix in its fleet of the 747 and then a twin-engine freighter, which will bring complexity into our operations, which we do not have at this point in time.”
Forson Sad To See the 747 Disappear…
Even with the airline thinking about the next generation of aircraft, the 747 has done a lot for the airline of which “having a single type in your fleet is of huge advantage”, Forson said. The 747-8 will cease production in 2022, which Forson stated would be a significant loss to the logistics market.
“[When production ceases], a significant capability will be lost to the logistics market”. I don’t ever see another four-engined freighter being developed by any manufacturer.” With the 747 being a part of the CV fleet since 1979, it looks to be leaving behind over 30 years of history behind and will join the CL-44s in the history books for cargo operations too.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see if CV strikes a deal with GECAS for any of the remaining 12 aircraft it still has left to put on lease; it will also be exciting to see where the next-generation elements of cargo will take the industry next.
Featured Image: The first Boeing 777-300ER to be converted into a freighter by IAI. Photo Credit: Air Cargo News