Top ten freighters

A complete analysis of the pioneering cargo aircrafts transforming the industry's skies.


A complete analysis of the pioneering cargo aircrafts transforming the industry's skies.

Freighter Type: light

ATR Freighter

Cargo volume: ATR 72 - 2666cu ft/75.5cu m, ATR 42 - 1978cu ft/56cu m

Dimensions: Wingspan 80ft 7in, overall length 74ft 5in, height 24ft 11in

Distance: ATR 72 - 500 nautical miles, ATR 42 - 450 nautical miles

Revenue payload: ATR 72 - 8.6 tonnes, ATR 42 - 5.8 tonnes

The ATR aircraft family is manufactured by a joint venture between the Italian technology company, Alenia Aeronautica and transnational aerospace company, EADS.

In 2002 and 2003, the ATR 72 and ATR 42 models were respectively modified as all-freight versions, promising to adapt the twin turboprop aircraft's efficiency and operational flexibility to cater for the tough demands of the modern airfreight industry.

The ATR 72 in fact does not possess an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), but instead has a propeller brake that prevents the propeller on the right side of the engine from allowing the turbine to run and provide air and power to the aircraft.

This is designed to eliminate the added weight and expense of an APU engine, which are periodically switched during maintenance.

Two main variants of the ATR are currently available, the bulk freighter (light or structural tube) and the ULD freighter (large cargo door).

Stripping aircraft interior of all standard furnishing and floor reinforcement, the tubing version comes with specific cargo equipment, such as light lining (Light Tube) or structural lining (Structural Tube).

Fitted with 9g vertical nets and six additional longitudinal tracks allowing flexibility for net attachment positions, the latest of this variant provides a volume maximised platform capability for bulk freighter operations. The large cargo door (LCD) variant allows for the loading of standard ULDs, including LD3 containers or 88inx108in pallets.
ATR believes this offers operators a flexible, multipurpose cargo platform for the air transportation of ULD, pallets, bulk freight or a combination of all three.

Over 800 ATRs have been sold worldwide and the company was busy during 2007 showcasing its new 600 series.

Operators include: FedEx, DHL, UPS, Finnair, Swiftair.

ATP freighter

Cargo volume: 74cu m/2615cu ft

Dimensions: Wingspan 100ft 6in, overall length 85ft 4in, height 24ft 11in, cabin width 8ft 2in

Distance: 2160 nautical miles/4000km

Revenue payload: 8.2 tonnes

The ATP was originally designed as a new generation fuel efficient turboprop aircraft when it first entered the passenger market in 1987.

Initially designed as an evolution of the Avro 748, the fuel crisis and increasing concerns about aircraft noise led business planners at British Aerospace to believe that there was a market gap for a short range, low noise, fuel efficient turboprop.

In 2001, BAE Systems first launched its passenger to freighter conversion programme offering both a bulk 'E' class and Large Freight Door version of the ATP, which has a payload in excess of eight tonnes.

The freighter model benefits from the long parallel fuselage section of the ATR, which subsquently offers a large cargo platform.

Since the freighter conversion programme was introduced, BAE has experienced increasing demand for the cargo version.

The basic 'E' class bulk freighter is divided into ten cargo bays separated by nine 9G vertical nets.

Cargo is loaded through existing forward and rear left hand doors, but if the large freight door option is opted for, it can also accommodate a range of pallets, containers and large cargo items, or customized containers designed to fit the ATP cross sectors.

The ATP is claimed by BAE to offer unrivalled economics in its class, and aims to replace the first generation 4-6 tonne turboprop freighters.

Operators include: First Flight Couriers, West Air Sweden, Atlantic Airlines.

Freighter Type: medium

Airbus A330-200F

Dimensions: Wingspan 197ft 10in, overall length 192ft 1in, height 55ft 5in, interior cabin width 17ft 4in

Distance: 3200 nautical miles/5930km

Revenue payload: 69.3 tonnes

Receiving industrial go ahead in January 2007, the new A330-200F is promising great things for Airbus customers.

It is the only mid-size, long-haul all-cargo aircraft capable of carrying 64 tonnes over 4000 nautical miles/7400km, or 69 tonnes up to 3200nm/5930km in payload mode configuration.

Reportedly introduced to combat flagging sales of the A300-600F and A310F, the freighter derivative of the A330-200 is scheduled to begin services in the second half of 2009.

Targeting the low frequency long haul markets, Airbus's trademark 222-inch fuselage cross-section and Fly-By-Wire technology, enables faster pilot transition from/to other Airbus freighters such as the A380F, A320/A321P2F.

The aircraft also features a new versatile main-deck cargo loading system that will be capable of accommodating both pallets and containers.

It can hold 23 side-by-side pallets on the main-deck or several other arrangements, such as single row loading of 16 pallets, 9 AMA containers along with 12 lower deck pallets and 2 LD3.

This allows for an interlining capability that offers 30% more volume than any freighter in its class.

To overcome the standard A330's nose-down body angle on the ground, the A330F will make use of a revised nose landing gear layout.

The same component will be used, however it will be attached lower in the fuselage, requiring a distinctive blister fairing on the nose to accommodate the retracted nosegear.

Two Pratt & Whitney PW4000 or Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines will power the aircraft.

Judging by the success of the A330 aircraft family (which has more than 550 orders worldwide), the freighter looks set to follow in its footsteps by carving a niche for itself in a market already familiar with its counterparts.

Operators include: 66 firm orders from eight customers including Etihad Airways, Flyington Freighters, Intrepid Aviation Group.

Boeing 767-300 Freighter

Cabin width: 15ft 6in

Cargo volume: 16,034cu ft/454cu m

Dimensions: Wingspan 156ft 1in, overall length 180ft 3in, height 52ft

Distance: 3270 nautical miles/6056km

Revenue Payload: 54.88 tonnes

As the newest of Boeing's freighter offerings, the 767-300F boasts an ability to carry up to 54.88 tonnes of cargo over 3200 nautical miles.

First ordered by UPS in 1993 and subsequently delivered in 1995, the model has since attracted a total of 50 orders (45 of which are delivered) by December 2006.

Benefiting from all the up to date advancements in avionics, aerodynamics, materials and propulsion of its passenger counterpart, the 767-300F's main strength lies in its low operating cost.

Its two-person flight deck and twin high-bypass-ratio engines offers superior fuel efficiency, a fact that allows the aircraft to offer a projected 20% lower per available tonne-mile than its closest competitors.

Structured using aluminum alloys and composite materials, the freighter's design is intended for operational flexibility and low level noise, with an all-digital flight deck.

Inside, the main-deck fuselage has smooth fiberglass lining, with a door in the restraint barrier wall between the cargo and flight deck, serving as an access point between the two areas.

Due to a unique fuselage width of 15ft 6in, the aircraft is unable to support ordinary ULDs and instead requires specially designed airfreight containers and pallets.

With the freighter's main-deck cargo system offering "interline" flexibility, it can directly accommodate for the transfer of freight from both existing twin-aisle and single-aisle freighters.

The 767 freighter's cargo-handling system uses power-drive units to move the cargo containers into and out of the airplane and is equipped with high-tech sensors.

Its system also boasts the extensive use of built-in test equipment, or BITE, which allows troubleshooting in the event of a system problem.

Operators include: UPS, DHL, All Nippon Airways.

Airbus 300-600F

Dimensions: Wingspan 147ft 1in, overall length 177ft 5in, height 54ft 3in, interior cabin width 17ft 4in

Distance: 2000 nautical miles/3700km

Revenue payload: 54.6 tonnes

Launched in May 1969, the A300 is claimed to be the first ever wide-body twin brought into the market, introducing the two-member flight crew concept to the airline industry.

Airbus calls the A300-600 freighter its 'economical cargo-lifter' due to its high versatility and low operating costs.

With an average dispatch reliability of 98.8%, the aircraft claims not only to burn less fuel than its competitors but to be quieter on take off.

Covering a range of 2000nm/3700km, the A300-600F has a payload capacity of 54 tonnes of cargo.

The freighter is built for optimum operating efficiency in regional operations and in medium-range routes with range capability up to 4000 nm/7700km.

With a 222-inch wide body fuselage cross section, the freighter is able to handle a full range of cargo on the main deck and in under floor holds.

The capacity of the main deck covers 15 cargo pallets in single-row loading, or 21 pallets with optional side-by-side loading.

Alongside its interlining capabilities, the aircraft also features a cargo loading system capable of handling almost every type of container and pallet simultaneously.

A side door at the rear of the aircraft's lower deck additionally allows for loading large cargo items.

Airbus has placed the A300-600F as one of the industry's best-selling freighter types in its class.

Despite accumulating a total of 134 orders for the freighter version, Airbus, in response to increasing market demand for its newer aircraft ranges, has progressively phased out the A300/A310 family.

Last year, the final ever delivery of A300-600RFs was sadly made in July.

Operators include: FedEx, Lufthansa, Empost.

Freighter type: large

Boeing 747-400/747-8 Freighter

Cargo volume: 27,467cu ft/778cu m

Dimensions: wingspan 211ft 5in, overall length 231ft 10in, height 63ft 8in, interior cabin width 20ft

Distance: 4445 nautical miles/8230km

Revenue payload: 110 tonnes

Boeing calls it the "undisputed queen of the air cargo fleet" and it has received recognition across the industry, not least due to boasting the lowest operating cost per tonne mile.

Add the ability to carry a cargo load of 110 tonnes over more than 4400 nautical miles, and you can understand what the fuss is about.

Optimally designed as an all-cargo transport, Boeing has sold a staggering 156 747-400 freighters to date, with the 747 freighter family overall comprising of half of the world's freighter capacity.

With a unique nose-loading system, the model makes full use of its main deck and large side cargo and nose cargo doors, which can accept outsized cargo in pallets up to 10ft high.

Boeing continues to improve upon the 747 design, with the enhanced 747-400 special freighter hot on its tails as an economical alternative of adding cargo lift when a passenger airplane is no longer needed in that capacity.

With a maximum takeoff weight of 910,000 pounds, the 747-400ER can fly an additional 525 nautical miles or can carry an additional 22,000 pounds of payload on long-range flights.

The 747-8 freighter, a new high capacity cargo airplane launched in 2005, improves on its predecessor's formidable reputation by offering 16% more revenue volume with a slightly greater range.

Longer than the 747-400F by 5.6m, its payload capacity weighs in at 154 tonnes with a range of 8275km. The additional 121 cubic metres of volume means the airplane can accommodate four additional main-deck pallets and three additional lower-hold pallets.

Operators include: Emirates SkyCargo, UPS, Cargolux, Nippon Cargo Airlines.


Antonov AN-124-100

Cargo volume: 40,965cu ft/1160cu m

Dimensions: Wingspan 240ft 5in, overall length 226ft 3in, height 68ft 2in

Distance: 3132 nautical miles/5800km

Revenue payload: 149.4 to 157.4 tonnes

Developed on the basis of the AN-124 Ruslan heavy military transport aircraft, the civil version AN-124-100 boasts a capacity of 120 tonnes.

Targeted at transporting heavy and oversized cargo, the aircraft counts Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Loral, Volkswagen, Siemens, and General Electric amongst its service users.

The freighter has a double-deck fuselage layout, including a pressurised cargo compartment in the lower deck.

It has been used to deliver heavy goods such as 90 tonne hydraulic turbines, crane and mine trucks, aircraft fuselage, locomotives, helicopters and electric generators.

The aircraft is also capable of being operated autonomously for a period of time.

Its airborne cargo handling system allows the loading/unloading of cargo without the aid of the ground equipment.

It also has multi-wheel landing gear of a high rough-field capacity, while availability of two APU and mechanisation of loading provide the independent aircraft operation from the poorly equipped airfields. These facilities have made it ideally suited for humanitarian causes.

From 2003 to 2005 Ruslans performed 783 flights to Afghanistan, delivering 58,350 tonnes of cargo and 146 flights to Iraq, transporting 12,900 tonnes.

Manufactured by Russian company Aviastar and Antonov in Ukraine, there are presently 26 AN-124-100s in commercial operation, with 10 firm orders as of August 2006 from countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Libya, Ireland and the UAE.

The modified AN-124-100-150 aircraft has an increased payload of 150 tonnes and flight range of 5400km.

Operators include: Maximus Air Cargo, Volga-Dnepr, Polet Airlines.

Ilyushin Il-76

Dimensions: wingspan 165ft 8in, length 152ft 10in, height 48ft 5in

Distance: 3650km

Revenue payload: 45-47 tonnes

The Iluyshin Il-76 was originally built for military use in 1967 but has since extensively operated as a commercial freighter, especially in the outsized and heavy goods sector.

Also known as Candid after its NATO reporting name, it possesses four engines and is able to operate from short and unprepared strips.

Still unmatched for its unique capability to carry weight over distance day in day out, the freighter is capable of carrying a payload of 40 tonnes over a range of 5000km in less than six hours.

Resilient to the most extreme of weathers, the Candid is available in a variety of designs.

Operators include: Maximus Air Cargo, Gulf Aviation Technology and Services, Atlas Air.

Watch out for: the next generation

Boeing 777 Freighter

Cargo capacity: 23,051cu ft/653cu m

Dimensions: wingspan 212ft 7in, overall length 209ft 1 in, height 61ft 1in

Distance: 4895 nautical miles/9065km

Revenue payload: 103.9 tonnes

Due to enter services at the tail end of this year, the 777 freighter is marketed by Boeing as the 'world's largest, most capable twin-engine freighter'.

Launched back in May 2005, the model is based on the 777-200LR Worldliner (Longer Range) passenger airplane, which gives it a revenue payload of 103 tonnes and a maximum takeoff weight of 347,450kg.

The 777 will be able to cover 4895 nautical miles with a full payload and general cargo market densities.

Boeing promises that the airplane's impressive range capability will allow for a smoother, more efficient service for cargo operators, resulting in fewer stops and landing fees, lower cargo handling costs and shorter delivery times - making it one of the most cost effective freighters in the large category.

As part of the first all-new digitally designed Boeing 777 aircraft family, the freighter will include advanced features such as state-of-the-art flight deck, fly-by-wire design and an advanced wing design that includes raked wing tips.

Whilst being powered by the powerful commercial jet engine, General Electric's GE90-110B1, the freighter will meet QC2 noise standards for maximum accessibility to noise-sensitive airports.

Capacity-wise, the aircraft will accommodate 27 standard pallets (96inx125in; 2.5mx3m) on the main deck, with the 10-foot-high (3.1m) pallets accommodated by the large main deck cargo door.

The lower cargo hold has the capacity for 10 pallets, as well as 600cu ft (17.0cu m) of additional bulk cargo. The freighter is also designed to facilitate smooth interlining with the 747 freighters.

The much publicised delays of its rival Airbus equivalent, the A380-800F, has allowed the Boeing 777 to capatilise on the subsequent market gap.

By December 2006, Boeing had received a total of 49 firm orders for the new model.

Operators include: Confirmed orders from Emirates SkyCargo, Qatar Airways, FedEx.

Airbus 380-800F

Dimensions: wingspan 261ft 8in, overall length 239ft 3in, height 79ft 7in

Distance: 5600 nautical miles/10,400km

Revenue payload: 149.4 to 157.4 tonnes

The upcoming A380 range of aircraft includes an all-cargo version, the A380-800F, the first ever commercial freighter with three full cargo decks.

As such, the freighter has the staggering capacity to carry 150 tonnes of payload, boasting 50% more freight than its closest rival.

Being able to cover a distance of 5600 nautical miles means that most major cargo routes can travel non-stop, hence making it potentially one of the most efficient methods of cargo transport.

The A380's direct operating cost is 21% lower than the largest competing freighter on a 5000 nautical miles sector.

The structure of the freighter is made up 25% of composite materials, and said to be more fuel efficient per tonne.

The aircraft is expected to have the widest cabin globally as well as a larger cockpit. All of the cargo decks will house standard cargo containers and a variety of pallets.

Airbus claims that this improved aircraft allows for express carriers to add new city pairs to their "next day" delivery lists, and also provides cost savings by allowing better consolidating of shipments.

Powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines and incorporating the most advanced technologies, the A380 promises greater fuel efficiency and claims to be one of the quietest aircraft ever.

In 2006, production of the A380 passenger aircraft experienced a catalogue of delays, forcing Airbus to suspend work on the freighter version.

The freighter remains on offer but its estimated delivery date has been pushed back from 2008 to 2014.

Operators include: At present all orders for the A380-800F have been cancelled due to delays.

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