Middle East carrier wants Boeing to consider developing cargo version of 777

Emirates has begun to evaluate medium-sized widebody freighters to operate regional services in the Gulf, and has asked Boeing to look at developing a cargo 777 as a potential candidate. The study is being undertaken as part of the airline's initial planning for its Airbus A380 freighter fleet, which is due to begin operations in 2008.

"We are looking at all candidates in the 50-85t payload," says Emirates' director of cargo Ram Menen. "We see a need for a regional network to feed the A380 freighters through our Dubai cargo hub."

The size category that Emirates is evaluating includes freighters such as the Airbus A300-600F, Boeing 767-300F and MD-11F. Menen says that all options will be considered, including the acquisition of both new aircraft or converted, second-hand examples.

Although Boeing's only new-build offering in the size category being evaluated is the 767-300F, Menen says this "doesn't really work for us as we don't operate the type already [as passenger aircraft]". This suggests that the airline's preferred choice would be a freighter version of a type already in its passenger fleet, which comprises Airbus A330s, 777s and, from next year, A340s. The airline is evaluating the proposed A330-200F and is "pushing Boeing to develop a freighter version of the 777-200", says Menen.

Boeing says its product development activities are focused on a freighter derivative of the General Electric GE90-110B powered 777-200LR. Studies of the cargo variant are at "a really early level", according to Boeing.

Emirates carried 400,000t of cargo in the year to March and expects the business to grow this year by 25-30%. Belly cargo hold capacity of its passenger fleet makes up 80% of the airline's cargo business, but a Boeing 747-400F is wet-leased from Atlas Air for dedicated cargo flights to Amsterdam, Hong Kong and, from next month, Shanghai. The airline has two A380-800Fs on order along with 20 A380-800 passenger models.

Menen says that Emirates is just beginning to look at its long-term freighter needs, but says it will definitely add more freighters. He envisages that the regional fleet will be in place to complement the arrival of its two A380Fs in 2008.

Source: Flight International