(Correction: Western Global is purchasing the legacy 777 freighter from Boeing. An earlier version incorrectly said the deal was for the new 777-8 freighter.)
Boeing and Airbus on Wednesday issued dueling announcements about new customers for their respective large freighter programs.
Boeing (NYSE: BA) said that Western Global Airlines has placed a firm order for two of the manufacturer’s 777 freighters. Airbus said Etihad Airways signed a letter of intent for seven of its all-new A350 widebody freighters and that Singapore Airlines had locked in a tentative order for seven A350 cargo jets.
It is the first time that Estero, Florida-based Western Global has purchased factory-built freighters. Western Global currently operates 21 freighters — mostly tri-engine MD-11s and a handful of four-engine Boeing 747-400s — but they are all former passenger aircraft converted to cargo configurations. The order helps the airline meet growing demand for e-commerce and express cargo.
Last fall, Western Global picked up several MD-11s from Lufthansa Cargo. Customers include express carriers UPS (NYSE: UPS) and DHL, the Postal Service, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), logistics providers, government agencies and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The company has previously outlined ambitions to expand its fleet.
“We have determined that augmenting our existing fleet with new 777 freighters will enable us to best serve our customers while providing a clear path to our future fleet plans,” said founder and CEO Jim Neff.
The twin-engine 777 freighter has a maximum structural payload of 118 tons and a range of 4,970 nautical miles, with improved fuel use and lower CO2 emissions compared to earlier aircraft, according to Boeing specifications. The airframer says the cargo handling and fuel performance translate into fewer stops and associated landing fees for cost-conscious airlines.
International emission regulations will require Boeing to stop production of the 767 and current 777 variant, both popular production freighters, in 2027.
Airbus has won firm orders and commitments for 29 A350 freighter aircraft from five customers so far.
More than 70% of the A350’s airframe is made of advanced materials, resulting in a 33-ton lighter takeoff weight and generating at least 20% lower fuel consumption and emissions over existing aircraft in the size category, according to Airbus.
Airbus has not been a serious player in the freighter market until recently. It launched a conversion program for the A320/321 in 2016 that began producing modified aircraft 18 months ago and last year unveiled a freighter version of the popular A350 passenger plane that will be factory built.
Boeing has forecast that the global freighter fleet will grow by 70% in the next 20 years as supply chains continue to spread globally and e-commerce demand booms.
In January, Boeing landed a deal with Qatar Airways for up to 50 next-gen 777 freighters worth $20 billion at list prices.
Boeing says the 777-9, the first passenger version of the new 777 model that has been known as the 777X, will be delivered in 2023. The first 777-8 Freighter is scheduled for delivery in 2027.
Orders for production and converted freighters have been pouring into manufacturers and aerospace rebuilders for the past two years as air cargo growth shows strong signs of a long run.