Atlas Air will still acquire three 747-8Fs by the end of 2011, although they will be more recently built models. Boeing will then hand over four more freighters to the cargo carrier next year, with the final two expected for delivery in 2013. To accommodate these new aircraft, Atlas Air will retire five older-generation 747-200s in 2012.
Despite this fleet revision, Atlas Air won’t have to wait long to fly its first 747-8F. The company’s premier freighter is scheduled for delivery in October, with two more slated for November. Atlas Air will operate all three aircraft on an ACMI basis for British Airways. The cargo carrier has also entered into an ACMI agreement with Panalpina, flying two 747-8Fs on behalf of the Swiss carrier immediately upon their early 2012 acquisition.
To Atlas Air CEO William Flynn, these aircraft will boost company operations tremendously. “We are delighted that our first five new aircraft allow us to extend our long-standing relationships with two premier customers,” he said in a statement. “And we look forward to placing additional 747-8 freighters with other customers.”
Still, Flynn maintained, the decision to reevaluate their 747-8F order wasn’t one Atlas Air officials made lightly. “As prudent asset managers, terminating the first three aircraft was the right decision for our fleet, our customers and our stockholders,” he stated. “We expect the remaining 747-8Fs in our order to be better-performing aircraft than those we have terminated.”
Either way, the canceled orders signal bad news for Boeing, which received word last week that launch customer Cargolux wouldn’t be taking delivery of its first two 747-8s as planned. Unlike Atlas Air, however, Cargolux hasn’t announced any decisions regarding fleet reductions.
Getting the freighter to market has also been fraught with adversity. The 747-8F was initially scheduled for delivery in 2009, with Boeing forced to compensate customers for the production delays.
Nevertheless, Boeing President and CEO Jim Albaugh remains optimistic about the aircraft’s future, crediting the 747 team with getting the freighter to market. “Over the last several years, this team has overcome challenge after challenge,” he said in a statement. “Through their hard work and dedication, they have ensured that the 747, the queen of the skies, will fly for decades to come.”