All Nippon Airways said Monday it converted two of its 20 orders for Boeing’s next-generation 777 passenger aircraft, the 777-9, to the 777-8 cargo version, becoming the third airline to commit to the large future freighter since Boeing launched the program at the start of the year.
ANA is a large combination carrier that operates nine Boeing 767-300 medium-size freighters and two large 777 freighters, according to a March 2021 fact sheet. ANA said the new 777-8 cargo jets will enter service sometime in 2028 or 2029 and signifies the company’s growth plans for air cargo business.
The Japanese airline originally ordered the 777-9 aircraft in 2014, but the aircraft’s development has been plagued by engineering challenges. Boeing (NYSE: BA) recently pushed back expected delivery of the 777-9 until 2025, more than a year later than forecast. The first freighter variants aren’t scheduled to be ready until 2027. Boeing, until recently, generically referred to both variants as the 777-X.
Boeing’s biggest customer for the new widebody freighter is from Qatar Airways, which has a form order for 34 aircraft plus options for 16 more. Lufthansa’s cargo division has signed a purchase agreement for seven 777-8 freighters, while Ethiopian Airlines has a letter of intent for five of them.
The aircraft manufacturer is facing new competition from rival Airbus in the cargo sector it dominated for decades. Airbus late last year unveiled a new widebody freighter based on the popular A350 passenger jet. Airbus has 24 firm orders for the A350F, and more waiting to be finalized. Experts say the planes are roughly comparable in capability.
The 777-8 has a payload capacity about the same as a 747-400 freighter while offering a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency, emissions and operating costs, according to Boeing. It also will have two extra pallet positions than the legacy 777 freighter, along with a 15% fuel benefit. Technological improvements include a new carbon-fiber composite wing and fuel-efficient GE engines. With a range of 4,410 nautical miles, the 777-8 will enable airlines to make fewer stops and reduce landing fees on long-haul routes.
The 2021 Boeing Commercial Market Outlook projects a 70% increase in the global freighter fleet by 2040, including about 450 new large widebody freighters.
ANA said it also finalized a tentative order for 30 Boeing 737-8 MAX jets.