Since its introduction almost twenty years ago, the 747-400 has dominated the international long-haul freighter market. Demand for 747-400 freighters, whether production or conversion, far outstripped supply, and virtually every carrier that wanted to move freight on international routes either operated some version of the 747-400, or wanted to. But the 747-400 freighter tide which flowed so strongly now seems to be ebbing, with demand falling to almost nothing, while supply begins to pile up.
To our knowledge there are at least eighteen 747-400 freighters (including Fs, ERFs, BCFs, and BDSFs) currently up for sale or lease. These include aircraft from Air China Cargo, Cargolux, Cathay, China Airlines, Jade Cargo, Korean Air, and even one brand new 747-400ERF that has never flown (originally ordered by Load Air, but never delivered). In addition, we believe that more will be put on the market soon (by carriers such as China Cargo Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways), with yet more to follow as the backlog of over fifty 747-8Fs and over seventy 777Fs is delivered during the coming years.
Perhaps the most telling comment came in a letter attributed to Southern Air CEO Dan McHugh, explaining to employees the company’s need to accelerate the retirement of its 747-200Fs, in which he is quoted as saying: “our traditional ACMI customer base is not actively planning to add 747-200 or 747-400 capacity in the near term.” It is not surprising that there is no market for 747 Classics, but that Mr. McHugh should refer to the lack of demand for 747-400 freighters in a letter ostensibly devoted to talking about retirement of 747-200Fs is certainly indicative of the difficult state of the market for the -400.
But while the 747-400 may be the hardest hit, it is hardly the only widebody freighter type no longer in favor in this time of soft demand, high fuel prices, and competition both from newer freighter types and plentiful belly space. If you are interested in learning what the industry needs to do to adapt to these new conditions, join us at Cargo Facts 2012 Aircraft Symposium at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, October 15 to 17, where our lead-off panel will feature four of the industry’s most-respected veterans discussing this very issue. Visit the Symposium website at www.cargofactssymposium.com for more information and to register.