Boeing will hold the production rate for the 747-8 steady at six per year despite a new order on 1 February from UPS Airlines for 14 more freighters, says vice-president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes Randy Tinseth.
The new UPS order raises Boeing’s backlog for the 747-8F to 24, which is enough to fill all available production slots over the next four years at current rates
“It’s going to have no impact in terms of our plans on rate. We’re building six airplanes a year,” Tinseth says. “But clearly this secures our production out into the next decade.”
That plan suggests that Boeing doesn’t expect the 747-8F to pick up new orders over the next few years despite signs that the air cargo market is entering a sustained growth cycle.
On 30 January, IATA released year-end results for the air cargo market in 2017, showing a 9% growth in traffic on a 3% growth in capacity.
“We saw a market where traffic grew faster than capacity which means that load factors are up for our customers,” Tinseth says.
More encouragingly, the fleet of widebody freighters parked in storage has dwindled to a handful of aircraft, Tinseth says. That creates the conditions for airlines to order new models or conversions of passenger aircraft into freighters.
Boeing plans later in the first quarter to deliver the first 737-800 that the company has converted from a passenger airliner into a freighter, Tinseth says. More than 100 new production widebody freighters also remain in the backlog across three production lines for the 747, 767 and 777, he adds.
So far, Boeing has not been tempted to launch development of a freighter version of the 787. Boeing designed that widebody to accommodate cargo pallets on the main deck, Tinseth notes. For the moment, however, Boeing plans to continue serving the small widebody freighter market with the 767. The 767-2C is also the basis for the KC-46 tanker for the US Air Force, which is scheduled to be in production for another decade.
“Right now we have a lot of demand to sell and deliver passenger  airplanes,” Tinseth says. “We have a great freighter in the 767. Frankly, we’re going to be building 767s for a very, very long time.”