Max Kingsley-Jones/SEATTLE

United Airlines has thrown down a challenge to Boeing to offer a freighter version of the 777, as the US carrier ponders its long-term cargo fleet strategy.

Speaking at the Cargo Facts '99 conference in Seattle, Jim Hartigan, vice-president cargo at United Airlines, said he expects the US carrier to decide by the end of the year the long-term fate of its four McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30Fs, and is evaluating future fleet scenarios.

"Within two years, we will have phased out all our passenger DC-10s. The DC-10F fleet will be orphaned." Such a small fleet would be uneconomical in the long term.

"We have various options - we can enlarge the fleet by adding more DC-10Fs, or replace the fleet with a freighter version of an aircraft we already operate, such as the 747," said Hartigan.

"If Boeing would care to listen, we think the 777 would make a great freighter." If such an aircraft was available, it would be a candidate for the airline's cargo fleet," Hartigan added.

United is phasing out its remaining passenger DC-10s between now and 2001 and replacing them with the 757 and 767, along with the Boeing 777-200.

The latter twinjet, along with the 747-400, will form the basis of the airline's future long-haul passenger fleet. Hartigan said he should have a clearer idea of the strategy for the cargo fleet following a United board meeting later this year.

In the mid-1990s, Boeing studied a combi version of the 777, equipped with a main deck cargo door, but no firm plans for a 777 freighter have been published. Given its wide fuselage cross-section, a 777-200F would offer a cargo volume second only to that of the 747F, with the cargo payload likely to be more than 90t.

Source: Flight International