By Karim Toure

Lufthansa Cargo and Boeing finalized an agreement for the carrier to receive 5 brand new Boeing 777 Freighters valued at $1.35 billion. Lufthansa Cargo which already operates its own fleet of 18 wide body Boeing MD-11 Freighters also benefits from direct access to freight capacity aboard Lufthansa passenger aircraft cargo holds. In addition the carrier can as well use capacity from dedicated freighters operated by other carriers affiliated to the Lufthansa Group. Most prominent in this list are AeroLogic which already operates 8 Boeing 777 Freighters and China-based Jade Cargo International. In this context the Boeing 777 Long Range Freighter will bring a more fuel efficient aircraft capable of transporting 45,000 more pounds of weight than the MD-11F further. The introduction of this state-of-the aircraft to Lufthansa Cargo signals the fleet’s transition to a more efficient, lower CO2 emissions and quieter QC2-compliant operation which will be critical in the future.


For the company founded in 1994, the Boeing MD-11F -as with many other global freight carriers- has played an enormous role generating value for the brand. In 2010 alone Lufthansa Cargo sales revenues amounted to 2.78 billions euro on 1.8 million tons transported. The all-cargo MD-11F provides capacity for transporting 202,100 pounds (91,670 kilograms) to a range of 3,500 nm (4,027 miles, 6,479 km) using three high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The General Electric CF6-80C2D1F engine has been a popular choice to power these aircraft along with the Pratt & Whitney 4460. Lufthansa Cargo logistic operation has been able to extract maximum revenue from the LD-7 standardized pallet system which has a footprint measurement of 125 in × 96 in (318 cm x 244 cm). On the MD-11F, 26 such pallets can be positioned on the main deck. In addition the lower deck forward compartment has room for 6 pallets and the aft compartment 4 more. As an alternative the aft compartment can receive 14 LD3 containers. The compartment number 5 with its dedicated smaller door is very practical for storing loose cargo items, mail and parcels. With a maximal fuel capacity of 38,615 Gal, (146,173 liters, 258,721lbs, 117,356 kg), Lufthansa which like FedEx Express, favors the LD7 125×96 pallet versatility can average 95 tonnes of freight carried per flight.

Boeing 777-200F

The state of the art 777 freighter derived from the Boeing 777-200LR delivers new standards in capabilities within the industry. The twin engined aircraft relies on two General Electric GE90-110B1L high bypass ratio turbofan engines (the GE90-115BL are optional) with 110,100 lb (489 kN) of thrust to carry 112 tons (247,000 lbs) of cargo at a range of 4,900 nm (5,640 miles, 9,070 km). Its higher fuel capacity of 47,890 gal (181,283 L, 320,863 lbs, 145,538 kg) and operating economics not only make it the prime candidate for replacing older widebody freighters like the MD/DC-10, MD-11, and Boeing 747-200 Freighters but also for the Boeing 747-400 which burns 20% more fuel. In cargo operation, twenty seven 125 in × 96 in (318 cm x 244 cm) LD7 pallets will find their way onto the 777 main deck, fitted in 13 rows of 2 pallets aside, plus a single pallet positioned against the aircraft rear bulkhead. The lower deck forward compartment is tailored for 6 additional 125 inx96 in pallets, with another 4 pallets being assigned to the lower aft compartment. The alternative as far as LD3 containers capability would be 18 LD3 containers in the forward compartment and 14 aft unless the aft section is instead used to house the 3 optional Boeing body fuel tanks for ultra long range operation. This operator’s choice would reduce the number of LD3 containers in the aft compartment to 8 instead.

LD-3 containers shown in an Airbus A-300 cargo hold cross section

Regarding the Boeing 777 freighter performance since entering service in 2009, we analyzed FedEx Express operational data. The logistics giant which now operates 12 such aircraft shows that profitably operating the type beyond the estimated 5,640 miles range requires a lot of weight optimization for each trip.

For instance on the 6,581 miles Memphis to Tokyo trip, freight carried is reduced by 43% to increase the aircraft reach by 17%. The greatest challenge remains the 8,184 miles long Hong-Kong to Memphis leg as it requires the aircraft to operate with a 35% additional capability in range. In that scenario the freight weight must be reduced by 30% to 159,867 lbs.

Data made available to USDOT indicates that FedEx Express rarely allows the MD-11 to venture at ranges greater than 5,416 miles as in Osaka-Oakland where freight must be weighted down by 33%. At that weight level (135,769 lbs) the B777F normally carries enough fuel to ‘push’ an additional 1,100 miles. This single most persuasive element highlights the advances in performance capabilities that the Boeing 777 Freighter has, just like its passenger variant, been able to introduce to the cargo industry.

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