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Ethiopian Airlines says it intends to buy 5 Boeing 777-8 freighters

Boeing and Airbus rivalry heats up in large freighter segment

A computerized rendering of an Ethiopian 777-8. (Image: Boeing)

Ethiopian Airlines has reached a preliminary agreement with Boeing for the purchase of five 777-8 freighters, the companies announced late Friday. If the deal is finalized, Africa’s largest carrier will be the second customer for the cargo version of the next-generation 777 aircraft.

Expanding the freighter fleet is part of Ethiopian Airlines’ long-term strategy for growing its cargo and logistics business to provide multimodal logistics services worldwide. The company has also started construction in Addis Ababa of what it describes as the largest e-commerce air terminal in Africa.

Ethiopian currently operates nine 777 freighters. The carrier’s fleet also includes three 737-800 Boeing converted freighters. The airline uses the belly capacity of its passenger fleet to move cargo as well. The combined fleet of 737s, 767s, 787s and 777s totals more than 80 aircraft.

In late January, Qatar Airways took the pole position for 777-8 production with a firm order for 34 twin-engine aircraft. Qatar’s first delivery is scheduled for 2027. International rules on aviation emissions require Boeing to stop making older generation 767s and 777s that year. Lufthansa is first in line for the passenger version, the 777-9.

The 777-8 is competing head-to-head with the new freighter version of Airbus’ popular A350 widebody jetliner. Airbus has won firm orders and commitments for 29 A350 freighter aircraft from five customers so far.

Boeing (NYSE: BA) specifications show the 777-8 has a payload capacity nearly identical to the legacy 747-400 freighter with a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency and emissions, making it much less expensive to operate. 

Last month Boeing landed a deal from all-cargo carrier Western Global Airlines for two current-model 777 freighters.

Boeing  booked record orders for new and converted freighters last year, including 84 orders for 767, 777 and 747 freighters, driven by e-commerce growth and demand for faster, more reliable transport amid widespread logjams in ocean shipping. That exceeded the previous record of 80 production freighters set in 2020. During the year, it also opened, or made plans for, 10 new assembly lines around the world for passenger-to-freighter conversions.

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Boeing lands Qatar Airways as 1st customer for 777X freighter

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]