Boeing has delivered the first 737-800BCF, within three years of the programme's launch.
The converted freighter was handed over to programme partner GECAS on 19 April at a dedicated ceremony at East Midlands airport in the UK.
In early May, the narrowbody will enter commercial service with launch operator West Atlantic UK – a subsidiary of Sweden's West Atlantic Group – and will be used for short-haul cargo transport serving the European market.
The aircraft was flown to the UK after painting in Victorville, California
GECAS – which has managed the aircraft (MSN 32740) throughout its service life, and has led the conversion programme with Boeing – is leasing four 737-800BCFs to the Coventry-headquartered airline, from its total orderbook with Boeing for 10 of the modified passenger aircraft.
West Atlantic UK says the remaining examples are scheduled for delivery in August and October 2018 and in January 2019. The aircraft are being converted by Boeing's Chinese maintenance and modification joint venture Boeing Shanghai Aviation Services.
The 18 737-300/400s already operated by West Atlantic UK will remain in the fleet, says company managing director Nigel Hiorns.
Mike Fleming, vice-president of commercial services for Boeing Global Services, describes the 737-800BCF as "the next generation of freighters".
He says: "For the first time, operators get one-stop-shop support throughout the lifecycle of a standard-body freighter – originally manufactured by Boeing, converted by Boeing, and supported by Boeing."
The aircraft has the capacity to carry up to 24,000kg (52,800lb) of cargo, with a range of about 2,000nm (3,700km).
Boeing says 12 pallet positions, comprising 11 standard pallets and one half-pallet, will provide 141m³ (5,000ft³) of cargo space on the main deck. There will also be two lower-lobe compartments, which will provide a further 43m³ of cargo space
The aircraft will primarily be used to carry express cargo on domestic and short-haul routes.
Boeing says it has secured 45 orders and commitments for the 737-800BCF. As well as GECAS, customers include: Hangzhou, China-based YTO Airlines; China Postal Airlines; Air Algerie; Colombia's LAS Cargo; Cargo Air, based in Bulgarian capital Sofia; and another, unidentified client.
The airframer forecasts a market for more than 1,000 narrowbody freighters "the size of the 737", with China’s domestic air freight carriers accounting for nearly one-third of the total market.