GECAS and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have announced the establishment of a passenger to freighter conversion programme that they are calling ‘The Big Twin’, with the launch of the Boeing 777-300ERSF.
The Boeing 777-300ER entered service in 2004, so residual values for early models are now reaching that point where a freighter conversion can extend their useful life.
The first Boeing 777-300ERSF is expected to enter into service in 2022, after a three-year development and prototype conversion process that will culminate in joint FAA/Civil Aviation Authority of Israel STC Approval. Subsequent aircraft will average four to five months to convert.
GECAS and IAI, which are jointly funding the project, signed agreements in July 2019 to launch the STC Development Program. As launch customer, GECAS has committed to 15 firm orders and 15 additional options from aircraft in its own portfolio. It is also providing the prototype aircraft.
The conversion of initial aircraft is expected to take place in Tel Aviv, but further conversion lines could be established in other locations outside of Israel from 2023 – IAI will be able to enter into conversion agreements for the Boeing 777-300ERSF directly with airlines as well as other lessors around the world.
The Big Twin will offer operators 25 per cent more capacity (18 tonnes) than the 777-200ERF and 15 per cent more (9 tonnes) than the Boeing 747-400BCF on every single sector. A 4,650nm range means it can directly replace aging 747-400BCF and McDonnell Douglas MD-11 freighters.
The aircraft is being proposed in four configurations:
- 11 96in x 238.5in ULDs, four 96in x 125in ULDs, one 88in x 108in ULD placed laterally
- 13 96in x 238.5in ULDs, four 96in x 125in ULDs, one 96in x 125in ULD placed laterally
- 21 96in x 196in ULDs placed laterally
- 36 side by side 88in x 108in ULDs, one 88in x 108in ULD placed laterally (this is a US military Civil Reserve Air Fleet configuration. The government makes peacetime business available to civilian airlines that offer aircraft for emergency airlift requirements that cannot be met by the military transport fleet).
In addition, belly capacity is maintained, offering a payload of 72,500kg. According to ANA, this could be 24 LD-3s, or eight LD7s and eight 88in pallets, in the forward hold and 20 LD3s in the aft hold.
The crew compartment includes a double bunk crew rest, wet galley with chiller and a lavatory with a vacuum toilet. Two double business class or nine economy class supernumerary seats can be installed.
The conversion includes removal of all passenger equipment, replaced by a robust cabin liner and window plugs; installation of new floor structure that can use a powered or non-powered loading system; deactivation of all passenger doors except the first par; installation of a 9g rigid cargo barrier; 1-minute smoke detection system; main deck temperature control; and modified ECS ducting.
As the fuselage cross-section is identical to the 777-200F, the main deck door in the port rear fuselage has been retained, measuring 146.5in wide x 120in high.
It is anticipated that it will achieve up to 21 per cent lower fuel burn per tonne than the 747-400BCF. Over a weekly round the world trip, it will burn 191 less tonnes of fuel (and carry 99 tonnes more payload).
Some sample sectors show a saving of 34 tonnes between Frankfurt and Hong Kong; 28 tonnes between Hong Kong and Anchorage; and 23 tonnes between Cincinnati and Frankfurt.
For operators with mixed 777-300ER/200LR/-200LRF passenger/freighter fleets, no extra pilot training will be required; the GE90 engine will have 100 per cent commonality; while maintenance procedures and spares holdings will have 90 per cent commonality.
Of course, pallets and containers will be common, as will 95 per cent of ground handling equipment.
The aircraft is powered by the GE90-115B engine and sister company GE Aviation will offer tailored support packages to maximise engine life, especially as the aircraft will have much lower annual utilisation than in passenger service.
The partnership say cost efficiency can be maintained even below 2,500 flight hours per year.