Air cargo booms: 747 freighters needed, but conversions unlikely

Premium Analysis

As air freight recovers rapidly, consideration is being given to satisfying capacity lift - just as airlines retire their passenger 747-400s.

Delta and United are two of the more recent airlines to retire their 747s, while Qantas is the latest to announce that it will accelerate 747 retirement. Even British Airways, which will operate the 747 into the 2020s, plans some retirements this decade.

It has been suggested that these passenger 747-400s could become freighters. While air frames are lowering in value, conversion costs remain significant, and the great age of the 747-400s provides fewer years for costs to be amortised. The larger concern is the ongoing inefficiency and cost disadvantage of a converted 747 compared to a 747 built as a freighter. These are general costs and not related to converted 747s being unable to have a swing nose door, which is required for only a minority of freight.

Although converting 747s may not be ideal, the pool of available freighters is small: CAPA's Fleet Database logs only 13 747-400 freighters (non-conversions) that are in storage, and some of these are already being prepared to resume service.

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