At the White House on Monday, Boeing formally launched its newest airplane, the large freighter version of the 777X passenger jet, with a big order for the plane from Qatar Airways.
The new jet represents an essential move by Boeing to hold onto its dominant position in the world air cargo market under new pressure from rival Airbus, which launched its own A350F large freighter in November.
In a statement, Stan Deal, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, noted that Boeing provides over 90% of the world’s dedicated freighter capacity.
“With global supply chains under pressure and high demand for e-commerce, the performance and capabilities of the fleet is more important than ever,” he said.
Air cargo demand has boomed during the global pandemic and Boeing has won a flurry of substantial orders for its existing 767F, 747-8F and 777F freighters.
However, a new internationally agreed carbon emissions standard for aviation will force Boeing to shutter the Everett assembly lines for all three of those current models at the end of 2027, although it’s possible the 767F might be granted a waiver to deliver a little beyond that.
In the future then, the large widebody freighter market will be a head-to-head between the A350F and the 777-8F.
Success of the Boeing jet will be vital to retain thousands of jobs in Everett.
Qatar placed a firm order for 34 of the new Boeing freighters. However, 20 of those are converted from the airline’s existing order for 777X passenger planes. The result is a net boost to Boeing’s order book estimated at more than $2 billion.
The new cargo plane, now officially named the 777-8F, will be the largest freighter on the market, carrying significantly more payload and with more range than the A350F.
However, the 777-8F is targeted to enter service only in 2027, two years later than the Airbus plane.
Qatar placed a firm order for 34 of the 777-8Fs, with options to purchase 16 more on similar terms.
In addition, the Gulf carrier ordered two of Boeing’s current 777F freighters. And it signed a memorandum of understanding committing it to buy 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10 airplanes, the largest model in the MAX family, with options for 25 more of those.
According to market pricing data from aircraft valuation firm Avitas, after typical industry discounts the 777-8F firm order minus the order for 20 of the passenger model, the 777-9X, is worth about $2.2 billion. For a marquee launch order announcement, it’s possible Qatar may have gotten an even larger discount.
The additional order for the 25 MAXs will be worth about $1.3 billion and the order for the two 777Fs another $330 million after standard discounts, according to Avitas estimates.
That means the total orders signed Monday add about $3.8 billion to Boeing’s order book.
The order was timed for the visit of Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, to President Joe Biden in the White House.
The order was ceremonially signed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal and Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo also attended.
Boeing touts the new 777-8F freighter as “the largest, longest-range and most capable twin-engine freighter in the industry.”
It will have a maximum structural payload of 130 tons, almost identical to the popular 747-400F freighter, though with a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency, emissions and operating costs over that airplane. It will have a cargo volume of 27,000 cubic feet.
The Airbus A350F has a maximum structural payload of 120 tons and a cargo volume of 24,500 cubic feet.
A comparison of the range of the two jets is more complex.
Airbus claims a range of about 5,400 miles for the A350F at maximum payload while Boeing’s corresponding figure for the 777-8F is just less than 5,100 miles.
However, Boeing claims that if the 777-8F were to fly with 10 fewer tons of payload, equal to the maximum the A350F can carry, then its plane so lightened would fly farther than the Airbus jet.
It’s also complex to make direct comparisons on fuel efficiency, which is a function of weight, engine performance and aerodynamic design.
Frederic Horst, managing director consulting at airfreight analysis firm Cargo Facts, on Monday estimated that the all-carbon-composite A350F empty weight will be more than 8 tons lighter than that of the 777-8F, which has a carbon-composite wing but otherwise has a metal airframe.
The operating efficiency of the two aircraft “will depend how that translates into fuel burn differences between the two,” Horst said.
“I think its going to be a close race between two very capable aircraft,” he added. “Fuel burn and price differences are going to be key.”
So far, Airbus has won orders for 22 of the A350Fs.
Qatar’s commitment to the Boeing jet comes as the airline and Airbus sue each other over responsibility for degradation of the fuselage paint on the passenger models of the A350 in Qatar’s fleet.
As part of that acrimonious dispute, Airbus took the unusual step of canceling a Qatar order for 50 of its A321s. The airline’s new order for Boeing MAX 10s is clearly to replace those Airbus planes.
Airbus and Boeing must now scramble to design, certify and deliver these two new rival cargo planes on the announced schedules and with the touted specifications.
NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, the graphic misstated the ranges of the Airbus A350F and the Boeing 777F and 747-8F. At maximum payload, those ranges are, respectively, 5,400 miles, 5,700 miles and 4,900 miles.
It also included claims about which of the two planes, the A350F and the 777-8F, could fly further and which was more fuel efficient. However, as the story now notes, those claims depend on complex variables and cannot at this point be independently validated.