Boeing 777-300ER Freighter Conversion Gains Interest From Cargolux

Luxembourg-based cargo operator Cargolux is reportedly considering involvement in the Boeing 777-300ER freighter conversion program. At this time, a deal has yet to be signed as the all-Boeing 747 carrier is evaluating its future fleet requirements. Could a converted freighter be a possibility in the coming years?

Cargolux currently operates a fleet of 30 Boeing 747s. 16 are the older -400, while the other 14 are the newer -8.

A passenger-to-freighter 777F

FlightGlobal reported this past Friday that Cargolux is examining the Boeing 777-300ER freighter conversion program for its future fleet requirements. The news came via the airline’s CEO, Richard Forson.

Last October, GECAS and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced the launch of the Boeing 777-300ERSF, officially marking the establishment of a passenger to freighter conversion program for the large twin-engine widebody.

GECAS notes that the conversion of initial aircraft is expected to occur in Tel Aviv, with further conversion lines contemplated in other locations outside of Israel from 2023. Sam Chui notes that the first aircraft conversion has already begun, as a former Emirates 777 was delivered to IAI in June.

The 777-300ERSF STC (Supplemental Type Certificate ) development and prototype conversion is estimated to take over three years from the start of the program to achieving CAAI/FAA STC Approval. Subsequent aircraft will average four to five months to convert.

GECAS launched this conversion program in June 2019 but only this year began the conversion process of its first 777. Photo: GECAS

A possible candidate for Cargolux

Cargolux has been eyeing this GECAS-led 777 conversion, the first aftermarket cargo modification launched for the 777 family. Speaking to FlightGlobal, the airline CEO shared his outlook on the future of freighters and how the industry has developed to this point,

“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,” -Richard Forson, CEO, Cargolux

Speaking during a UK Aviation Club event, Forson explained that Cargolux has two options to choose from:

  1. Look to the big manufacturers for freighter versions of newer-generation widebodies, or,
  2. Seek the conversion of older-generation passenger aircraft.
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At this time, however, the first option isn’t looking likely. Neither Airbus nor Boeing have committed to producing freighter versions of two potentially viable aircraft types. Indeed, Forson has expressed some doubt that Boeing’s current 777X orderbook is enough to launch a freighter variant.

Lufthansa 777F
The only purpose-built 777 freighter currently on the market comes directly from Boeing. Photo: Oliver Holzbauer via Wikimedia Commons 

On the Airbus side, Forson noted that the delivery of hundreds of A350s “could potentially justify the development of a freighter,” but the planemaker is yet to announce such a program. Forson said he would need to look at whether those products meet his requirements.

Of course, looking at option number two, Forson notes that “there’s a huge feedstock of 777-300ERs in the market that will also be looking for a home one day.” Indeed, as many airlines adopt newer aircraft such as the A350 or 787, and eventually the 777X, passenger 777-300ERs may become abundant.

The interim solution

As the GECAS 777ERSF product won’t be available for quite some time, Forson explained his airline’s plan in the meantime:

“…what we’ve done as an airline is taken the necessary steps to ensure the longevity of our 747 fleet as long as possible…Besides the Antonov [An-124], which is a niche aircraft, there is not a comparable aircraft with the capabilities of the 747, especially in terms of the movement of outsize shipments.”

777F Korean Air
Cargo transportation has become a key focus for many airlines as air passenger travel has plummeted due to the health crisis. Photo: John Taggart via Wikimedia Commons

Eventually, Forson admits that Cargolux “will have a mix in its fleet of the 747 and then a twin-engine freighter.” This, he says, “will bring complexity into our operations, which we do not have at this point in time…having a single type in your fleet is of huge advantage”.

Do you think Cargolux should commit to these converted 777 freighters? Or are there other options you think it should consider? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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