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Lufthansa Cargo Boeing Freighter Order Causes an AvGeek’s Confusion

A Rendition of what a Lufthansa Cargo Boeing 777F will look like - Photo: Lufthansa Cargo

A Rendition of what a Lufthansa Cargo Boeing 777F will look like – Photo: Lufthansa Cargo

Two years ago an interesting order was placed with Boeing. One that might have slipped under the radar for most.  This order didn’t really make all too many waves in the AvGeek world and to be honest, I didn’t even realize it myself till I was tipped off by a fellow AvGeek.

In March 2011 Lufthansa Cargo put in an order for five 777 freighters and this spurred a large amount of curiosity since it did not seem like the ideal choice to replace their aging fleet of 18 classic MD-11 aircraft.

A Lufthansa Cargo MD-11F Climbs out of Los Angeles - Photo: Kevin Epstein - AviationPhotographic

A Lufthansa Cargo MD-11F Climbs out of Los Angeles – Photo: Kevin Epstein – AviationPhotographic

Lufthansa Cargo currently flies an all “Boeing” fleet made up of older MD-11F aircraft.  Previous to that Lufthansa used the Boeing 747-200F, which had been converted from airliners handed over to them by the parent airline.

BONUS: Taking the inaugural Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental Flight

A Boeing replacement option for the MD-11 seemed pretty likely.  The two long haul options on offer by Boeing for the freighter market are the 747-8F and the 777F.  Both give many improvements over their predecessor aircraft. Although Lufthansa Cargo has never operated the 747-400F, I was curious to check out the differences of the aircraft type as seen below:

 

Aircraft MD-11F 747-400F 777F 747-8F
Max Payload 202,733lb 245,474lb 228,700lb 290,400lb
Max Cargo Volume 21,530ft 27,467ftᵌ 22,371ftᵌ 30,832ftᵌ
Max Range 3910 nm 4445 nm 4900 nm 4390 nm

 

My surprise with the order was, “Why only the 777F and why not the 747-8F?”  With Lufthansa being the launch customer for the 747-8I it would seem to most AvGeeks that the 747-8F would be an ideal choice.  Common type ratings, common maintenance and a common parts base at the Frankfurt Hub would obviously provide cost savings.  However there were other reasons at play here. Not to mention that they were only ordering five planes [and 5 options] to replace 18 — the math was not adding up.

BONUS: Inside look at the Lufthansa Technik maintenance facility in Frankfurt

One reason might be that Lufthansa does not seem to happy with the Boeing 747-8Is that they already operate. According to Aviation Week ,”Lufthansa is considering eventually replacing its Boeing 747-8 fleet with the proposed 777-9X some time in the next decade, Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz indicated on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Cape Town.”

Also, the Lufthansa Cargo has partnered with DHL to create a separate cargo company called Aerologic, which already operates the 777F. Their experience with the aircraft likely helped to sway Lufthansa Cargo’s decision.

An Aerologic Boeing 777F landing at Boeing's Everett Factory - Photo: Lufthansa Cargo

An Aerologic Boeing 777F landing at Boeing’s Everett Factory – Photo: Lufthansa Cargo

With the first 777F in Lufthansa Cargo livery is expected to appear from the Everett factory later this year, followed shortly after by another. Within two years the final three will be built and delivered.

Lufthansa Cargo over the years have moved from Aircraft with four engines, to three and now to just two engines (albeit giant GE90s) and this is seen as a positive move.  Is this a sign that the 777F is the “Freighter of the Future?” Most likely with any future 777-9XF options.

** Updated June 7th **

A further comment from Lufthansa Cargo stated that “We chose the 777 because it is the best freighter from our point of view. The combination of efficiency and size is ideal. We are convinced that it is much easier (but still hard work) to operate a 777 with cargo capacity of appr. 100 tonnes with profitable load factors than the much bigger 747-8 (although its is a great aircraft and we are operating it very successfully in our passenger business).”  Looking at it from this perspective I happen to agree that they made the right decision!

This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian AvGeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.

@BigMalX | BigMal’s World | Photos

7 comments to Lufthansa Cargo Boeing Freighter Order Causes an AvGeek’s Confusion

  • Scott

    I’m not sure what’s so confusing here… the numbers you present make it pretty clear why the 777F would be a better option for GEC than the 748F. Relative to the MD-11F, the 748F is massive overkill — it’s a MUCH bigger plane. Moreover, the twin-engine 777F is much more fuel efficient than the 748F (especially if they don’t need all that extra cargo capacity).

    Meanwhile, IATA reports that global air cargo is on the decline, and airlines are carrying more cargo in the belly of passenger aircraft these days. While it’s very possible that the short order of five airframes will not be the only order to replace the entire MD-11F fleet, the decision to go with the 777F seems like a no-brainer, given the info you present.

    • Hi Scott

      You are right that the 777F is the clear choice. But unless you sit down and do the research or know the figures off the top of your head (which I didn’t) it’s not as obvious as that!

      Funny thing is I saw a lovely AeroLogic 777 in Hong Kong yesterday (well Tuesday US time).

      Mal

  • Kevin

    I was under the impression that Aviation Week had misquoted the Lufthansa CEO. I’ve heard from several other blogs that the CEO was actually talking about ordering the 777-9X to replace the aging 747-400 frames that will be reaching the end of their service life around the time that 777-9X would be coming online.

  • John G

    Does anyone know what the issues are with the 747-8i? That’s disappointing, to say the least.

  • Mark D

    I dont think there is anything wrong with the 748F – Scott above is correct – its all in the economics.

  • Smokerr

    The comments by Luft CEO are not that he is unhappy with the 747-8I as such, its the economics of its Pax capacity vs a 777X. 4 engines to maintain vs 2 and the fuel economics drives the choice to 2 engines.

    Note that the A380 is a Pax heavy design but is the worst for belly freight with early comments that it had no capacity once Pax luggage was loaded (they have backed off that but I think its true).

    FedEx shifted the whole network to the 777 when they gave up the never to be produced A380F rather than go with the 747-8F.

    Its a complex dance of routes, frequency and the capacity needs. FedEx, UPS, DHL have different needs than a pure freight operation or a Pax/Freight operation and you see that UPS and DHL run or rent 747s and FedEx does not (UPS also runs a significant 767 fleet on Trans Pacific routes which makes no sense as the 767 is not that type of frreighter but they leverage a dedicated trip and it makes inter Asia stops and then comes back). Lots of ways to slice the deck.

    Do you need the front opening on the 747F (of any type?). If not then…….

    Newer planes (twins) are also deliberately designing more freight capacity into the belly so that changes equations as well.

    FedEx is keeping a LOT of MD11s for 10 years or longer despite the 777Fs better economics as its also a balance between paid for cost, fuel, route lengths and benefits (if any) etc.

    You will note that the all freighter operations are going heavy if not all 747-8F.

    UPS is happy with the 747-400F (most dedicated but 3 are conversions or Combi). Interesting world with the A330F not doing that well (FedEx went with the older 767F as the A330 was too big and the A300/310 are out of production.

  • Greg S.

    Economics work both ways. If 90%+ average capacity loads are available for the 747-8F now, LH made the wrong decision as this is the low point of cargo operations. If not the 777F is the correct decision. Time will tell.

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