After several years of facing stiff headwinds from its troubled MAX 737 jet and the COVID19-induced global travel slump, airplane maker The Boeing Company (BA) has zoned in on its cargo business to help offset these challenges by capitalizing on a rebound in consumer consumption and disruptions to ocean freight.
- Boeing sees air cargo demand remaining resilient post-pandemic due to a rebound in consumer consumption and disrupted shipping supply chains.
- The airplane maker has almost doubled its capacity turning passenger jets into freighter planes since the pandemic began.
- Aircraft leasing company, Avalon Holdings Ltd., sees air cargo revenue reaching $150 billion this year, with traffic doubling by 2040.
- Boeing has signed a $20 billion-plus deal with Qatar Airlines for up to 50 of its newest dual-aisle jetliner, the 777-8, to mark the plane's cargo-version launch.
Since the pandemic began, the Chicago-based company has seen 22 of its total lines convert passenger aircraft into freight planes, up from 12 in the years leading up to the health crisis. According to Boeing's global services division head Ted Colbert, 17 lines have converted Boeing 737s, while five have transformed 767s.
In March, Alaska Air Group, Inc. (ALK)—the nation's fifth-largest airline—announced plans to transform two of its midlife Boeing 737-800s into cargo planes. The carrier already has three Boeing 737-700s dedicated solely to air freight, betting that the pandemic air cargo boom will continue, even as passengers return to the skies.
Demand for Cargo Flying High
Airfreight volumes started to pick up early in the pandemic amid an e-commerce boom but have accelerated over the past six months. This is primarily due to increasing demand for industrial and consumer goods as restrictions ease and shipping supply chain bottlenecks arising from ongoing lockdowns in China—a country that accounts for nearly 30% of global manufacturing output.
Aircraft leasing company, Avalon Holdings Ltd., sees air cargo revenue reaching $150 billion this year, with traffic doubling by 2040. Moreover, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics projects the share of U.S. domestic and international air freight value will increase from 6% in 2018 to 10% by 2030.
"Air cargo volumes have been rising as the global economy recovers from the pandemic, as bottlenecks in the supply chain persist," Tellimer equity analyst Nirgunan Tiruchelvam told Business Insider.
First Order for New 777-8 Freighter Planes
In January 2022, Boeing inked a deal worth more than $20 billion with Qatar’s state-owned flag carrier Qatar Airways Company Q.C.S.C. for up to 50 of its newest dual aisle jetliner, the 777-8, to mark the plane's cargo-version launch. However, the Middle Eastern airline is not expected to take delivery of the jets until 2027 due to a string of delays. To secure the transaction, Boeing agreed to convert a third of an existing Qatar order for 60 777-8 passenger planes to the freight version.
The aircraft is likely to be popular with carriers seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, given it can fly at comparable payloads to the aging 747-400 freighter but with 25% lower emissions.
The deal with Qatar Airlines shows growing demand for freighter jets and highlights Boeing’s commitment to remaining at the forefront of air cargo transportation.
Disclosure: The author held no positions in the aforementioned securities at the time of publication.