Cargo carriers mulling how best to ship their packages

Paris Air Show » 2007
June 16, 2007, 1:21 AM

The delivery this month of the first Boeing 747-400F cargo aircraft to United Parcel Service (UPS) comes as the package hauler mulls its next move. After dropping an order for 10 Airbus A380F very-large freighters, UPS has considered six options: obtain converted 747-400 passenger aircraft, buy more McDonnell Douglas MD-11Fs, order extra 747-400Fs or choose from among new Boeing 747-8F and 777F or Airbus A330Fs and potential A350 XWB cargo designs.

When Airbus postponed A380F development to concentrate on resolving its passenger A380 delays, remaining customers Emirates Airline, FedEx and International Lease Finance Corp. faced similar decisions. Emirates immediately leased three Boeing 747-400ERFs, of which the first already has entered service, and other freighters. FedEx has ordered 15 777Fs for delivery from 2009 and taken options on a further 15.

The A330F, any “A350 XWBF,” 747-8F, and 777F are competing against passenger-to-freighter conversions of older designs.

The now-postponed A380F promised an unprecedented cabin volume and the ability to carry more than 148 tons over a range of 5,600 nautical miles but had to work hard for sales. While Airbus booked orders for 27 examples from 2001 to 2005, Boeing signed deals covering 92 747-400F/ERFs between 2000 and 2006, to which it added 54 stretched 747-8Fs in 2005 and 2006.

Launched almost two years ago with orders for 18 aircraft from Cargolux and Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA), the 747-8F is claimed to offer the lowest operating costs and best economics of any large freighter. Its 18.3-foot greater length provides 4,225 cubic feet (or 16 percent) greater revenue cargo volume than the 747-400F. Range is slightly greater at 4,475 nautical miles.

Cargolux will introduce the 747-8F (for which the configuration was frozen eight months ago) in the third quarter of 2009, followed by NCA by the end of 2009. First, Boeing must deliver 36 final 747-400Fs–split evenly between standard and extended-range variants– outstanding since Philippine Airlines cancelled what would have been the final passenger variants.

Maximum structural payload capacity for the 747-8F is put at 138 tons. The increased volume accommodates an additional four main-deck cargo pallets and three additional lower-hold pallets over the -400F. It has a new, more-efficient wing and less thirsty General Electric GEnx engines developed for the 787.

In a typical trade-off, Boeing says 747-8 operators can choose between 19.7 tons higher revenue payload or 1,400 nautical miles greater range. While trip costs for the larger aircraft are slightly higher, it has 14-percent lower ton-mile costs. The first 747-8F should fly in late 2008 and enter service following certification about 12 months later.

Boeing launched its 777F two years ago, saying it would “fly farther and will provide more capacity than any other twin-engine freighter.”

Based on the passenger 777-200LR, it is scheduled to enter service in late 2008. With a maximum takeoff weight of 766,000 pounds, the 777F offers a revenue payload capability of 229,000 pounds and sports a 4,895-nm range with a full payload at general cargo density.

A critical study during 777F design concerned location of the main-deck loading door relative to the wing. Boeing says that a multi-disciplinary team of engineering, operations, finance specialists, and customers took part in the decision to fit an aft door.

Factors considered included aircraft weight and “loadability,” cargo arrangement and capacity, ground-service operation, structural simplicity and, not least, clearance around the wing and engines.

Airbus says the A330-200F, with which it hopes operators will replace aging designs such as McDonnell Douglas DC-8Fs and DC-10Fs, will carry 63 tons over 4,000 nautical miles or 68 tons over 3,200 nautical miles.

The A330-200F main deck is designed to accommodate both pallets and containers, holding up to 23 side-by-side pallets or a single-row loading of 16 pallets and nine AMA containers, along with 12 lower-deck pallets and two LD3 containers.

In May Indian operator Flyington Freighters became the first cargo carrier to order the A330F when it selected six of the type. It will become the launch operator when the aircraft enters service in the second half of 2009.

Alongside reported plans to establish a joint venture with engine manufacturer Motor Sich to restart production of the Antonov An-124 very-large cargo aircraft, Volga-Dnepr has contracted with Boeing for five 747-8Fs (with options on an additional five) with deliveries during 2010 to 2013. The An-124 venture may involve partners such as the Aviastar production plant, Progress engine design company and Antonov.

New production is reportedly expected to involve the An-124-100M-150 (with Progress D-18T-3 engines upgraded to -4 standard with full-authority digital engine control and higher thrust) for AirBridgeCargo Airlines.

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