The Boeing 777-9, the larger, shorter-range version of the 777X, has 8% more belly-hold cargo capacity than the current production 777-300ER, Boeing Co (NYSE: BA) has confirmed to FreightWaves. The first 777X test flight was Saturday, and the company expects to begin deliveries in 2021, but no entry into service schedule has been announced.
The 777-9 will be able to carry up to four more LD-3 containers than the 777-300ER, said a Boeing spokesperson. The new plane's cargo capacity is 7,707 cubic feet, while the -300Rs capacity is 7,120 cubic feet. The size of the cargo payload is contingent on other factors, such as interior configurations, passenger baggage allowances and trip length.
Boeing has delivered 818 777-300ERs over the life of the program; 422 of the -200ER model and 61 -200LRs, which has the longest range of the current 777s. The manufacturer currently has 309 orders for the 777X, which will feature an 11-foot folding wingtip. When fully extended, the aircraft's wingspan will be more than 235 feet long, making it the largest wing Boeing has ever built. The longer wing improves the aircraft's efficiency and folding it ensures the aircraft is compatible with existing airport taxiways and gates.
The timing of Federal Aviation Administration certification of the new widebody is unclear. Given the 737 MAX grounding and intense scrutiny of the process FAA and Boeing used to certify that aircraft, it is likely a very conservative approach will be taken.
In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported in November that regulators in Europe and the Middle East plan to do their own certification reviews of the 777X.
Boeing also offers a freighter version of the current aircraft and has delivered 179 of 232 777Fs ordered to date. Boeing has no current plans for an all-cargo version of the 777X.
In addition to the 777F, Boeing also builds the 747-8 freighter and 767F and offers passenger- to-freighter conversions for the 767-300 and 737-800. The company is evaluating the business case for launching a 777-300ER passenger-to-freighter conversion program, but has not made a decision. Customer requirements, market demand and the availability of airplane feedstock will drive the decision, the spokesperson said.
Boeing has been bullish on the cargo market, predicting in its World Air Cargo Forecast for 2018-2037 that airfreight traffic would grow 4.2% per year over the 20-year period. During the company's fourth-quarter 2019 earnings call Wednesday, CFO Greg Smith said cargo volumes have contracted due to challenging trade environments. "Improvements in industrial production and global trade will be key to rebounding the air traffic cargo market in 2020."
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