Boeing could launch a passenger-to-freighter conversion product for the 777 as early as next year as it continues product development studies for the proposed 777-200 Boeing Converted Freighter (BCF) and 777-200ERBCF.
Boeing Commercial Aviation Services vice president freighter conversions Dennis Floyd says the manufacturer has been working with potential customers on developing requirements for both the 777-200BCF and 777-200ERBCF. He says the next step for Boeing, which first revealed last September that it was studying conversion products for both models, is to decide whether there is a business case to begin formally offering one or both of the products.
"Right now the earliest we're looking at is first quarter of next year for it being offerable," Floyd told the Cargo Facts 2009 aircraft symposium in Seattle.
He says the programme could be launched as quickly as three to six months after Boeing gives its sales team the green light to offer the products and try to secure launch orders. But he adds the exact timing of the launch "will be very much market driven".
Boeing sees a possible 2013 or 2014 entry into service for the 777-200BCF and/or 777-200ERBCF. Floyd says the market will determine which model is certified first and whether the 777-200 will be skipped entirely for the larger 777-200ER.
Figures from Floyd's Cargo Facts presentation show the 777-200BCF, which Boeing calls the "A market" aircraft, with an estimated 545,000lb maximum takeoff weight and revenue payload of just under 150,000lbs that can be flown up to 2,500nm. The 777-200ERBCF, which Boeing calls the "B market" aircraft, would have an estimated maximum takeoff weight of 650,000lb and revenue payload of just over 175,000lbs that can be flown up to 4,000nm. Both types will be able to accommodate 27 pallets on the main deck.
"Right now our product development study is looking at the A and B. We'll let the market decide," Floyd says. "Ideally I'd like to do both but it depends on where the market demand is."
Floyd says Boeing has "matured" the design for both models but is continuing trade studies to determine the exact performance specifications. A firm configuration could be finalised as early as the second half of next year.
Boeing envisions the 777-200BCF operating transcontinental flights and replacing the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, McDonnell Douglas DC-8, Airbus A300-600 and Airbus A310. The heavier 777-200ERBCF is seen as ideal replacement for the Boeing MD-11 on intercontinental routes.
Floyd says Boeing has produced 88 777-200s although one has already been ruled out for potential conversion. Boeing to date has produced 412 777-200ERs but Floyd says given the back current backlog there could be eventually up to 430 aircraft available for conversion. In developing the new conversion products Floyd says Boeing will try to leverage the commonalty between the 777-200 and 777-200ER as well as with the 777 production freighter.
The 777F, based on the larger 777-200LR/-300ER, has a 766,000lb maximum takeoff weight and revenue payload of just over 225,000lb which can be flown up to 5,000nm. Boeing began delivering 777F early this year and has since delivered eight of the type to four customers - Air France, AeroLogic, Emirates and LAN.
The ninth 777F will be delivered next week to a fifth operator - FedEx, which has 15 777Fs on firm order. Earlier this year a FedEx regulatory filing also revealed the carrier was in discussions with Boeing over potential 777 conversions.
Floyd says Boeing believes the 777F will complement rather than compete with the 777-200BCF and 777-200ERBCF. He says while some 777F customers may opt to augment their fleet with converted aircraft the 777BCF will also open up a new customer base as some cargo carriers only consider acquiring second hand aircraft.
Boeing plans to take the lead in marketing the 777BCF and use outside shops for the actual conversions, following the strategy it has used for the 747-400BCF and 767-300ERBCF programmes. "We have a good network of shops doing conversions and there's always more coming to us," Floyd says. "Our intent is to do it as a Boeing Converted Freighter contracted from us. But right now we're just focusing on doing the product development to offer it as a Boeing Converted Freighter."
Boeing uses Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering for 747-400 conversions, while also selling the kits separately to airlines that have their own conversion capabilities. Boeing uses Singapore Technologies (ST) for 767-300ER conversions. Both companies are obvious candidates for 777BCF.
ST Mobile president Joseph Ng, speaking to Flightglobal following his speech at Cargo Facts, says ST "will certainly bid for the conversions" for the 777BCF. He says if ST is selected for the 777BCF programme the conversions would more likely be done at its Paya Lebar site in Singapore, where it now does 747 and MD-11 conversions, rather than at its subsidiary in Mobile, where ST now converts 757s and historically has focused more on narrowbody work.
The potential launch of a cargo conversion product for the 777 comes just as Airbus prepares to launch a cargo conversion product for the rival A330. Flightglobal reported earlier this month that Airbus is seeing strong interest for a passenger-to-freighter conversion of the A330-300, which is already now being offered to potential customers, and could begin deliveries as early as 2012 if a launch customer is secured. Airbus Freighter Conversion vice president of marketing and sales Michael Fuerst, speaking to Flightglobal after his presentation at Cargo Facts, says the manufacturer will likely launch the A330-300 converted freighter by the end of this year. "We have good signs that we will launch this year the A330 [converted freighter] with an order," Fuerst says.