Boeing has begun studying passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion products for the Boeing 777 as it prepares to potentially launch a 777-200 Boeing Converted Freighter (BCF) and a 777-200ER BCF early next decade.

In a presentation at last week's Cargo Facts 2008 aircraft symposium in Miami, Boeing Commercial Aviation Services vice president freighter conversions Dennis Floyd revealed "product development studies" were underway for both the 777-200 BCF and 777-200ER BCF.

Speaking to ATI after his speech, Floyd says Boeing is now looking at the feasibility of P2F conversion products for the 777-200 and 777-200ER, how much the conversions would cost and how long it would take to convert the two aircraft types.

Floyd says the studies initially started as a low level effort but "have been slowly ramping up" in recent months. It has been understood for some time that Boeing has been looking at the 777-200 BCF and 777-200ER BCF but this is the first time the manufacturer has confirmed it is indeed studying conversion products for the 777.

Charts from Floyd's presentation show the 777-200ER BCF offering cargo carriers a revenue payload of roughly 180,000lbs (81.6t), give or take about 15,000lbs, and the shorter-range 777-200 BCF a payload of roughly 145,000lbs (65.8t), again give or take about 15,000lbs.

A Boeing spokesman stresses these figures are very preliminary. "We haven't tied down the specific capabilities yet," he says. "We're working with a spread and we're not ready to discuss specific numbers yet."

Floyd says there is no timeframe for a decision on launching conversion programmes for the 777-200 and 777-200ER. He adds the timing for such a decision "will be driven by market demand".

It is generally believed a conversion program for the 777 is still several years away because the first 777 is only 13 years old and the aircraft is still in high demand from passenger carriers. For example, Q Aviation senior vice president Steve Fortune told the Cargo Facts conference that the lessor expects 777 converted freighters will be available from about 2013 or 2014.

"In the long-run we see 777 as a replacement for 747-400s," Fortune says.

Industry sources say for now Boeing is more interested in selling 777 production freighters. Boeing is currently flight testing the first 777F and is scheduled to deliver the first aircraft to launch customer Air France late this year.

But Boeing wants to make sure it is prepared to begin offering 777 P2F conversions, which probably will be the most technically complicated cargo conversion product ever engineered, as soon as the market is ready. Floyd says the 777-200 BCF and 777-200ER BCF represents unchartered territory because the 777 is the first aircraft from a completely new generation of technology.

He says converting 777s will be far more complicated than converting 747-400s given all the new technology that debuted in the 777, in particular in the cockpit. "It's like converting a convertible into a pick-up truck. It will be a challenge," Floyd says.

Fortune says the technical complexity associated with the 777s will make it very difficult for any company but Boeing to offer conversion products for the 777.

For the 747-400 converted freighter, Boeing now competes against Israel Aerospace Industries' Bedek division. "For the 777, conversions for non-OEMs will probably be more difficult," Fortune says.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news