Qatar 777X Freighter Launch Comes With Surprise 737-10 Deal
Qatar Airways has signaled the long-anticipated launch of Boeing’s 777-8F Freighter with a firm order for 34 aircraft as part of a deal which also includes an unexpected agreement covering up to 50 stretched 737-10s.
The two fleet deals, including 16 777-8F Freighter options, are worth around $27 billion at current list prices, and represent a key boost for Boeing as it continues to slowly recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its widebody business and the 737 MAX grounding on its single aisle sector.
The firm launch of the 777-8F, the third derivative of the 777X family, provides Boeing with a freighter model offering a capacity close to that of the 747-400F in an era of historic growth for the air cargo business. The aircraft, which is set to begin deliveries in 2027, shares the same 235 ft. 5 in. wingspan as the passenger models, but is 232 ft. 6 in. long—marking a fuselage extension of 3 ft. 6 in. over the previously defined 777-8.
The extra fuselage length will provide space for up to 31 freight pallets on the main deck, plus existing space for 13 pallets and additional bulk cargo, or 5,995 cu. ft., in the lower holds. Maximum takeoff weight will be increased to 805,000 lb., compared to 775,000 lb. for both 777X passenger versions, providing a range of more than 4,400 nm. and a maximum revenue payload of 247,500 lb. (112.3 metric tons). The aircraft will be configured for a maximum structural payload of 260,000 lb., permitting longer non-stop operations.
The same fuselage length will now be shared with the 777-8 passenger version. Boeing has yet to confirm the revised development schedule of the ultra-long-range derivative since revealing in 2019 it was delaying the shorter version to focus on the longer body 777-9 variant. However, the manufacturer says it now anticipates delivery of the freighter before the 777-8 passenger variant, indicating the introduction of the longer haul model has now been pushed back until at least 2028.
Boeing adds that with the Qatar order, the 777X family backlog has now grown back toward pre-pandemic numbers with 334 firm orders. “Across all orders, 80% are for the 777-9 and the rest roughly split between the freighter and 777-8 passenger airplane,” the company adds.
Earlier indications that Boeing was studying extending the 777-8 fuselage to accommodate the freighter model appeared to trouble Tim Clark, the president of Emirates Airlines which—apart from Qatar—is the only other known customer for the model.
Speaking to Aviation Week at the Dubai Airshow in November 2021, Clark cautioned that even a slight stretch of the baseline 777-8 to form the basis for the freighter would “cause issues,” and added “why would you buy something that is so close [in size] to the -9.” Boeing is meanwhile continuing flight tests of the 777-9 and says it remains on track to begin deliveries in late 2023.
Qatar Airways, whose cargo unit already operates 26 current model 777F freighters, is also ordering two additional 777Fs as part of the agreement. Boeing indicates that 20 of the 34 firm 777-8Fs will be converted from the 60 777X family orders already held by the Middle East-based carrier.
The surprise inclusion of the 737-10 order, which is made up of 25 firm and purchase rights on an additional 25, follows the equally unexpected termination earlier in January of Qatar’s order for 50 similarly sized Airbus A321neos. The cancellation of the A321neos, which were originally due for delivery beginning later in 2022, is the latest development in the increasingly bitter feud between Airbus and Qatar over problems with the surface finish on the airline’s A350 fleet.
While Qatar is not discussing details of the abandoned A321 order, the airline’s CEO Akbar Al Baker says the carrier “very much looks forward to adding the 737-10 to its fleet, with this new variant of the 737 being ideally suited to our short haul network, allowing us an opportunity to further enhance our product offering for our customers, modernize our fleet and operate the most efficient aircraft in its category.”
Stretched to 143 ft. 8 in., the 230-single class seating 737-10 is currently undergoing flight testing following its initial flight in June 2021. Although the aircraft does not have the same range capability as the latest A321neo versions and requires a supplemental auxiliary fuel tank to operate on extended ranges up to 3,300 nm., the aircraft continues to amass orders—most significantly attracting an order for 150 from United Airlines in mid-2021.