- Airlines are expecting a boom in air cargo to remain and buying new aircraft to take advantage.
- UPS Airlines just ordered 19 of Boeing’s 767-300 Freighter aircraft to be delivered through 2025.
- Airbus is landing new orders for its recently launched A350 Freighter that won’t fly until late in the decade.
Airlines are going on a shopping spree for aircraft on which most travelers will never fly.
The rise in air cargo demand stemming from global supply chain and shipping crises has left airlines looking to grow their air freight cargo operations. Companies are more willing to expand shipping budgets to avoid issues such as container ship congestion at US ports in a bid to quickly get goods to market.
Realizing that the air freight demand is here to stay, cargo carriers and passengers airlines alike are turning to Airbus and Boeing for more aircraft and spending billions to grow their fleets.
UPS Airlines announced on Tuesday it placed an order for 19 Boeing 767-300ER cargo aircraft in an order valued at more than $4 billion based on current prices listed for the aircraft, though airlines rarely pay list price. Scheduled to be delivered between 2003 and 2025, the order will grow the UPS fleet to more than 300 aircraft pending any aircraft retirements, according to Cirium fleet data.
Some of Boeing’s oldest aircraft families are being kept alive by cargo airlines, including the 767 and 747 aircraft that passenger airlines have long stopped purchasing. UPS Airlines and Atlas Air in 2022 will be among the airlines receiving the final 747 aircraft ever built by Boeing.
Airbus launched the A350 Freighter program at the Dubai Airshow in November with a seven-aircraft order from Air Lease Corporation. Around one month later, three airlines have placed orders for the A350F including CMA CGM Air Cargo, Air France, and Singapore Airlines.
But one issue facing cargo carriers is that those aircraft are still a half-decade away from revenue service. Airbus’ A350F may not fly its first package until 2026 and Boeing has yet to launch the freighter variant of its new 777X twin-engine passenger jet, which may take just as long to get flying.
Some passengers airlines are looking to their own aircraft to see if they can use excess passenger planes to fly cargo.
An Air Canada Boeing 767-300ER passenger plane that was grounded at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was sent to Israel for a cargo conversion, and now flies cargo instead of passengers. Emirates will also convert four of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft into freighters in a deal with Israel Aerospace Industries at a cost of around $50 million per plane, in addition to placing an order for two Boeing 777-200 Freighters.
Other cargo carriers like Orlando, Florida-based National Air Cargo are at a crossroads when it comes to growing their fleet. Aircraft parking lots in the desert have dried up of useable planes and slots for aircraft conversions have been bought up by major players like Amazon.
The next-generation aircraft from Airbus and Boeing are also costly, not yet certified, and years away from being delivered. “It’s always going to be longer with those aircraft types, not shorter,” Christopher Alf, chairman of National Air Cargo, told Insider of the time it takes a manufacturer to start delivering new aircraft types.
National has six Boeing 747-400BCF, or Boeing Converted Freighters, in its current fleet and demand is strong enough that Alf would be able to profitably run “20 to 25 of them, no problem.”
But with the 747 discontinued by Boeing and now incredibly in demand from cargo carriers, Alf is turning to aircraft like the Boeing 777 Freighter and Airbus A330 Freighter to fill a jumbo jet-size hole.
“We say no every day to people,” Alf said of his cargo business. “There’s definitely the volume and the demand for [additional aircraft] so that’s why we’re always on the lookout for more freighters.”