Amid growing signs of a dramatic resurgence in the fortunes of the air cargo market, Boeing has inked a deal with Volga-Dnepr Group and CargoLogicHolding firming up an order for five 747-8F and covering a letter of intent for 29 777Fs.

The agreement, signed at the Farnborough airshow, also paves the way for potential future fleet expansion plans which range from the acquisition of new production or converted 767 Freighters to the possible purchase of 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighters. The package also includes a Boeing Global Services agreement with Volga-Dnepr Group airline AirBridgeCargo to support the planning and operation of the airline’s 300 crew members.

While the 747-8 orders represent another key extension to the freighter orderbook, the move to the 777F is a significant shift to build up the group’s future fleet around the large twinjet cargo aircraft. Boeing says demand in the freight market grew nearly 10% last year, and the company has taken more than 100 orders and commitments for production and converted freighters so far in 2018. Recent additions to the orderbook also announced at Farnborough include a contract for 14 777Fs with purchase rights on a further seven from express freight operator DHL, and an order for five 777Fs from Qatar Airways.

News of the Volga-Dnepr deal emerged as Boeing released its 2018 Commercial Market Outlook which included considerably rosier prospects for the cargo market. “Cargo has, in many ways, taken center stage at this show,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes marketing vice president Randy Tinseth.

“Over the last two years we have seen a definite uptick in air cargo as a result of an economy that’s now going above trend, as well as a return in trade and a return in industrial production,”

Based on Boeing’s forecast of 4.2% annual growth, the company sees a total demand for 980 new freighters over the next 20 years, 510 of which will be large aircraft such as the 747-8F and 777F, and 470 medium freighters like the 767-300F.  At this level of demand this will support production of two aircraft per month says the manufacturer.

In addition, Boeing also sees a buoyant demand for conversions. The forecast sees a requirement for around 1,670 converted freighters by 2037. Some 500 of these will be wide-bodied aircraft and 1,200 single-aisle transports.  Overall the total freighter fleet is expected to grow by 60% over the next 20 years, going from 1,870 aircraft today to 3,260 freighters.    

Both the 777F and 747-8F are powered exclusively by General Electric which also looks to enjoy the longer-term benefits of the cargo upswing. David Joyce, GE Aviation president and CEO, tells Aviation Week ShowNews that the most recent freighter orders will “almost certainly” help push the value of orders and commitments announced at Farnborough to more than $15 billion.