- The growth of e-commerce companies like Amazon is prompting cargo carriers to take on more planes.
- Israel Aerospace Industries and GECAS are developing a new cargo plane based on the Boeing 777-300ER.
- The world’s largest twin-engine cargo will carry more cargo and be more efficient than its predecessors.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Instead of buying new aircraft, many cargo carriers are choosing to purchase former passenger planes and convert them to freighters.
It’s a months-long process that can cost upwards of $10 million for larger aircraft. But the financial savings make it worth it compared to purchasing new planes.
Cargo airlines such as Amazon Prime Air have been among the top customers for converted aircraft like the Boeing 767-300ER and 737-800F.
Right now, the Boeing 747 is the largest mainstream cargo plane but its reign may be coming to an end. Boeing will stop producing the aircraft in 2022 and the ones currently flying will only be doing so for a few more decades.
As a result, Israel Aerospace Industries is turning to a new aircraft as a candidate for conversions: the Boeing 777-300ER.
It’s the largest twin-engine aircraft currently flying passengers and is slated to become the largest twin-engine cargo plane. It’s called “Big Twin.”
This 16-year-old aircraft is currently in development to be the world’s first converted Boeing 777-300ERSF.
It started its life as an Emirates passenger plane that was first delivered in 2005, with the conversion giving the aircraft a second life beyond flying people.
IAI is developing the aircraft along with GECAS, the aircraft leasing division of GE Capital.
True to its name, the Boeing 777-300ER freighter offers 25% greater volume compared to the Boeing 777-200F, an already successful freighter flying for the likes of Lufthansa Cargo, FedEx Express, and Qatar Airways Cargo, with 90% commonality between the two aircraft.
The Big Twin also offers a fuel savings of 21% per tonne compared to the Boeing 747-400F aircraft while offering a comparable range and fewer engines to service.
A range of 4,650 nautical miles will allow Big Twin to connect city pairs including New York-Istanbul, Turkey; Seattle-Tokyo, Japan; and Miami-Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Big Twin will be powered by two GE Aviation GE90 engines offering 115,000 pounds of thrust each.
IAI plans to achieve certification for the Big Twin in 2022. After that, each conversion will take up to 130 days, only 10 more days than Boeing 767 conversions.
Converting the 777-300ER is proving to be a different animal than the aircraft IAI has converted in the past. But the firm says that the Big Twin is nothing it can’t handle.
“The 777 is different than the 747 and 767, for example, as it’s a more modern aircraft,” Rafi Matalon, IAI’s executive vice president of marketing, told Insider. “It’s a challenge but based on our very strong engineering capability for the last 60 years, we are solving the problems.”
The conversion process for the Big Twin will include converting the passenger cabin for cargo use. That means removing the no-longer-needed passenger seats, strengthening the cabin floor, and creating a barrier between the cargo hold and cockpit.
A cargo door will then be installed on the side of the fuselage for loading and unloading cargo pallets.
Michigan-based cargo carrier Kalitta Air is the Big Twin’s first customer.
The Big Twin is a natural next step for Kalitta, which currently operates the Boeing 777-200F.
Pilots trained on the smaller 777 can fly the Big Twin with minimal additional training.
The Big Twin will still be Kalitta’s second-largest plane behind the Boeing 747-400F.
But, as the passenger airlines are proving, the future is in twin-engine planes and IAI is in talks with more airlines and leasing companies for potential Big Twin orders. “Let’s just say, as a marketing guy, I am happy that I’m very busy,” Matalon said.