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Air CargoAmerican ShipperNewsTop Stories

Saudia selects Mammoth Freighters to convert Boeing 777s for cargo

Middle Eastern airline orders 7 modified freighters to support e-commerce

Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia said it will order seven passenger-to-freighter conversions of the Boeing 777-300 from startup aviation engineering firm Mammoth Freighters. The move would double the airline’s freighter fleet, assuming none of the planes are for replacement purposes.

The investment is the latest example of industry confidence in air cargo’s growth potential during the next 20 years and its interest in a new long-haul product that can replace large 747 and MD-11 cargo jets. Those planes are gradually being phased out because of age and high operating costs.

State-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia)  has a purchase agreement with Mammoth Freighters to reconfigure 777s for carrying heavy pallets on the main deck, plus an option for five more conversions, the airline said in a news release.

Mammoth Freighters suggested in a tweet the conversions are for the -300 variant. But a spokesperson contacted by FreightWaves declined to provide details. Saudia didn’t respond to inquiries by press time.

Initial conversions will take place at Mammoth Freighter’s new overhaul facility in Texas, according to Saudia’s announcement. Saudia Aerospace Engineering Industries (SAEI), a maintenance and repair organization based in Jeddah, would use Mammoth’s design to convert additional aircraft under the deal. 

Saudia’s aircraft maintenance subsidiary said it will build a multi-bay facility dedicated to widebody aircraft modifications, maintenance and passenger-to-freighter conversions. The facility will also be able to manufacture aircraft structural components used in the changeover.

Saudia Cargo currently has seven air freighters – four factory-built Boeing 777s and three Boeing 747-400s. 

E-commerce is central to the company’s growth strategy, officials said.

In February 2021, Cainiao, the logistics arm of Chinese online retail platform Alibaba, engaged Saudia as a contract carrier to create a sky bridge between Asia and Europe for express package delivery. Saudia operates 12 flights per week linking Hong Kong to Liege, Belgium via Saudia’s Riyadh hub. The arrangement has significantly increased Saudia Cargo’s e-commerce volume. 

777 conversion market

Saudia Cargo is Mammoth’s second official customer after Canadian all-cargo carrier Cargojet, which signed a contract for four 777-200 freighter conversions. Mammoth is set up to do conversions for the 777-200 and 777-300 variants. It is backed with funds managed by Fortress Investment Group.

The twin-engine 777s can carry about 105 tons of goods and have a wide fuselage that make them well-suited for dense freight and light e-commerce shipments. The 777-300 is about 33 feet longer than its sister, allowing it to hold 10 more main deck pallet positions than a -200 Long Range aircraft.

Air cargo operators, express carriers and leasing companies can provide their own assets for conversion or pick up a ready-to-fly converted freighter from Mammoth’s existing inventory. Mammoth has 10 777-200LR aircraft it acquired from Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), which retired its 777 fleet in 2020.

Mammoth and Israel Aircraft Industries are the first to develop structural designs and modification kits enabling transformation of 777 passenger aircraft into heavy-duty cargo jets. 

Israeli Aircraft Industries has orders to convert more than 50 777-300s, including from Cargojet, Kalitta Air and Emirates. 

Mammoth and IAI expect to make their first deliveries next year after receiving certification from aviation regulators that the redesigned aircraft are airworthy.

The 777-converted freighter fills a void in the market as more passenger aircraft become available in the secondary market. 

Boeing (NYSE: BA) will stop making 777 freighters in 2027 to comply with international emission standards. It is working on a 777X replacement aircraft with new engine technology that it hopes to have ready by mid-decade. Boeing is also producing the final four 747-8 freighters, which are destined for Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW).

Boeing estimates air cargo volumes will grow at a 4% compounded annual average rate through 2040.

Remodeling a passenger aircraft for heavy cargo involves installation of a wide cargo door and a rigid 9G barrier in front of the cockpit, reinforcing the floor, plugging windows, adding main deck temperature-control systems, and installing a powered or manual cargo-handling system.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch. 

Related News:

Canada’s Cargojet quietly quadruples order for 777 freighters

Israeli company confirms Cargojet deal for Boeing 777 cargo conversions

Lufthansa invests in next-gen Boeing 777-8 freighters

Mammoth Freighters invests in aerospace firm to jump-start 777 conversions

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 ekulisch@freightwaves.com

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