CAPA: retired B747s could help solve cargo capacity crunch

A report from CAPA – Centre for Aviation – published earlier this month indicates that with airfreight demand on the up, the conversion of retired Boeing B747-400 passenger aircraft could help solve a potential capacity crunch – if the trend continues.
CAPA said that the pool of available freighters is small, with only 13 B747-400 freighters (non-conversions) in storage and some of these are already being prepared to resume service.
In contrast, there are currently 71 B747-400 passenger aircraft not in service, which could offer opportunities for freighter conversions.
Among the airlines who have already retired their B747s are Delta and United.
Qantas and British Airways also plan to take theirs out of service over the coming years, CAPA noted; the Australian carrier will cease to operate the type entirely by 2020, replacing that capacity with B787-9 options, while BA intends to reduce its B747-400s from 34 in 2018 to 22 by the end of 2024 (if not earlier).
There are several factors that make B747-400 conversions a somewhat undesirable option, however.
Parked B747-400s are at least 16 years old, and their average age is 23 years. While market valuations of airframes generally go hand in hand with age, making some of these aircraft potentially cheap to acquire, higher maintenance costs may outweigh that advantage. Plus, the older an aircraft is, the less time remains in its lifespan to amortise the cost of converting it.
Also, the inefficiency of converted freighters in comparison with their factory-built counterparts tends to make them expensive to operate and, consequently, less than ideal for long-haul flights. This is particularly so when fuel costs are high.
The report said: “While operators are buoyant with current conditions, they quietly acknowledge – and fear – that the current boom is not structural, and could recede almost as quickly as it appeared. Almost no operator foresaw the current cargo rebound; equally, they do not want to predict future strength.
“The freighter situation is further complicated with high passenger growth as routes and capacity proliferate, offering larger amounts of bellyhold space.
“With an uncertain outlook and limited options to acquire used freight supply, risk management is critical,” CAPA concluded.
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