Boeing 737-800BCF

MIAMI — Boeing has launched the 737-800 Converted Freighter Program, with orders and commitments for up to 55 aircraft from seven customers.

The 737-800 is the newest addition to the company’s passenger-to-freight (P2F) program, also offered for the passenger versions of the 767-300 and the 747-400. The incorporation allows Boeing to offer a comprehensive freighter product portfolio, with economically-feasible solutions for cargo carriers in emerging markets while taking advantage of a large amount of 737s that are expected to be retired from passenger service in the coming years.

“While the recovery of the global cargo market has been slow, we see demand for freighters, such as the 737-800BCF, that will carry express cargo on domestic routes” said Stan Deal, senior vice president, commercial aviation services, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

The modifications required for the transition from a 737-800 passenger to a freighter will include the installation of a large main-deck cargo door (which to date was offered for the 737-700 Combi version), a cargo-handling system, and accommodations for up to four non-flying crew or passengers.

Unsurprisingly, most of the launch customers for this program are Chinese cargo airlines, which account almost the half of the order book. Hangzhou-based YTO Airlines has ordered 10 conversions plus 10 commitments, while China Postal Airlines has also ordered 10 conversions. In addition, Boeing secured 13 commitments from SF Airlines and Bulgarian carrier Cargo Air.

“Over the next 20 years, Boeing forecasts customers will need more than 1,000 converted freighters the size of the 737, with China’s domestic air freight carriers accounting for nearly one-third of the total market” Deal said.

GE Capital Aviation (GECAS) will provide the first aircraft for conversion. According to the manufacturer, the 737-800BCF will be able to carry up to 52,800 pounds (23,950 kg) of cargo, arranged in 12 pallet positions comprised by 11 standard pallets and one half-pallet, providing 5,000 cubic feet of cargo space on the main deck, and further complemented with an additional 1,540 cubic feet of cargo space at the lower cargo holds.

Boeing says the conversions will take place at selected facilities, located near conversion demand, including Boeing Shanghai. The first of the type is expected to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2017.