Startup aviation firm Mammoth Freighters LLC on Tuesday announced that Cargojet, a Canadian contract carrier for Amazon, DHL Express and Purolator, is its launch customer with an order to convert two Boeing 777-200 passenger aircraft to an all-cargo configuration.
The agreement moves Cargojet (TSX: CJT) up a level in aircraft size. The 777s are large, heavy-lift aircraft that can carry about 103 tons of cargo and have significant volume for e-commerce parcels. The 777 freighters will have 14% more volume than a Boeing 747-400 and 81% more space than a Boeing 767. Cargojet has 28 freighters in its fleet, most of them medium-size 767s that were converted after ending passenger service with other carriers.
Mammoth said the first plane will begin the conversion process in mid-2022 with delivery sometime in the second half of 2023, after it gets approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for its design to structurally modify the 777-200. For the prototype, the conversion process will take longer than future deliveries.
Assembly work involves gutting the plane’s interior, adding a rigid barrier to protect the cockpit, cutting the fuselage and adding a large door for pallets, and reinforcing the floor to support heavy loads. The process typically takes four to five months for a large airliner.
Cargojet has options to convert two additional 777-300s and two 777-200s.
Cargojet provides outsourced transport for express carriers in North America, as well as ad hoc and dedicated international charter service for airlines and freight forwarders. It flies more than 25 million pounds of cargo weekly.
Mammoth, based in Orlando, Florida, and backed by Fortress Investment Group, was founded last December but waited until September to publicly reveal its business strategy. Mammoth acquired 10 777-200 Long Range aircraft from Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL). It will offer customers ready-to-fly converted freighters or reconstruct planes provided by carriers and leasing companies.
Mammoth recently acquired a large stake in GDC Technics, a maintenance, repair and overhaul company with facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, which will install the conversion kits using Mammoth’s design.
The air cargo market is sizzling because the downturn in international passenger flying caused by the pandemic eliminated a large chunk of belly capacity, with about a 15% to 20% deficit in overall shipping space compared to 2019. All-cargo operators have deployed more freighters, but any planes that are airworthy are already flying. Double-digit growth in e-commerce has increased demand for new aircraft sources, especially among express delivery companies and their partner carriers. Boeing forecasts compound annual growth of 4.1% for air cargo during the next 20 years.
The 777 passenger-to-freighter conversions offer carriers the ability to add new capacity or replace aging freighters such as the 747-400 and the MD-11.
The only 777 freighters in use today are factory-built by Boeing. Israel Aerospace Industries is developing a conversion program and plans to deliver its first aircraft in 2023.
Conversion shops are booked for months or years as activity increases to give older passenger planes a second life in cargo. Planes in high demand include the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A321 narrowbodies, 767s, and Airbus A330s.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Israel Aerospace Industries)