Qatar Airways is the launch customer of Boeing's 777-8 Freighter jet, and has also signed a new agreement with Boeing to purchase 25 737-10 (MAX) passenger jets. (Boeing)
Qatar Airways has become the launch customer for Boeing’s new 777-8 Freighter, the air cargo variant of the 777X passenger jet that the Middle East carrier is also launching, with an expected first delivery coming in 2023.
Under a new agreement signed with Boeing, Qatar will convert 60 of its existing 777X family orders to the 777-8 Freighter with a firm order for 34 jets and options for 16 more. With a range of 4,410 nautical miles (8,167 km), the 777-8 Freighter has a maximum structural payload of 118 tonnes and will feature a new carbon-fiber composite wing.
Boeing signed the 777-8 Freighter launch customer agreement with the airline during a ceremony held at the White House on Monday. Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker said in a statement that the airline is “honored” to become the launch customer for an aircraft that will “not only allow us to further enhance our product offering for our customers, but also help us meet our objectives to deliver a sustainable future.”
The 777-8 Freighter will be built at Boeing's Everett, Washington factory where the company has invested "more than $1 billion" to support 777X production, according to a Jan. 31 press release. Boeing notes that the payload capacity on the 777-8 Freighter is nearly identical to the existing 747-400 Freighter with a "25% improvement in fuel efficiency, emissions and operating costs."
Qatar's 777-8 Freighter fleet will be powered by the GE9X engine, after the airline signed a $6.8 billion purchase order with GE Aviation, one of the biggest announcements for the engine-maker since it announced a new strategic business plan to spin-off its healthcare division, while combining its energy, power and digital divisions into one business that will leave the industrial giant's sole focus on aviation within the next few years.
"The commitment includes 30 GE9X engines and four GE90-115B engines, plus GE TrueChoice™ services," according to GE Aviation's announcement of the new selection.
"We are confident that Qatar Airways’ focus to drive towards a sustainable future will be very much supported by the efficiency of the GE9X engines," Al Baker said.
Boeing expects to deliver the first 777-8 Freighter to Qatar Airways by 2027. The move by Qatar to expand its air cargo fleet comes amid increasing demand for the package-carrying side of the air transportation industry. Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data showing the full-year demand for air cargo increased 6.9% in 2021, compared to pre-COVID 2019 levels, and 18.7% compared to 2020.
"The lack of available capacity contributed to increased yields and revenues, providing support to airlines and some long-haul passenger services in the face of collapsed passenger revenues," IATA said in its latest report.
Boeing's launch of the 777-8 Freighter comes following the launch of the A350 Freighter by rival Airbus last year. Airbus and Qatar Airways have been involved in a legal dispute for several months involving claims that the airline has experienced issues with degradation of surface and paint on certain A350 aircraft within its fleet. A Jan. 25 report from Business Insider notes that Airbus has cancelled a 2017 order placed by Qatar Airways for 50 A321 jets amid the ongoing dispute.
In addition to the 777-8 Freighter launch agreement, Qatar Airways also committed to a firm $7 billion order of 25 total Boeing 737-10 aircraft and purchase rights for 25 additional airplanes. As the largest variant in the 737 MAX family, the 737-10 has a 3,300 nautical mile range. Boeing completed the first 737-10 test flight last June, and expects the aircraft to achieve entry into service by 2023.