Cargo Wins Big at Dubai Airshow As Airlines Capitalize on Shipping Crisis

  • Air cargo was one of the big winners from the Dubai Airshow thanks to the shipping crisis.
  • Airbus and Boeing landed orders for cargo jets, both new and converted, to meet rising demand.
  • Boeing held off on launching the 777X Freighter while Airbus launched its A350 Freighter. 

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International airshows are typically a time for airlines to show off their latest and greatest innovations that seek to improve the flying experience for travelers. But this year’s Dubai Airshow saw big wins not just for passengers but also packages. 

Air cargo has been riding high for most of the pandemic and its importance has only been strengthened by the current shipping crisis. Companies that may have relied on ocean shipping in the past and now loosening the purse strings and paying up to send their items in the shipping equivalent of first class. 

And the conversation among the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers including Airbus and Boeing is shifting to include cargo aircraft, for which there was no shortage of orders in Dubai. 

Boeing kicked off the air show with orders for its Boeing Converted Freighters, including nine 767-300BCFs for DHL Express and 11 737-800BCFs for leasing company Icelease. Three new conversion lines in the UK and Canada announced at Dubai will also increase Boeing’s capacity to transform the aircraft from airliners to freighters, a process that can take months depending on the size of the aircraft. 

DHL Express Boeing 767-300F

A DHL Express Boeing 767-300F.

A Periam Photography /

Airbus then launched the Airbus A350 Freighter project with a seven-aircraft order from Air Lease Corporation, marking the first next-generation Airbus aircraft to enter the cargo realm. The A350 Freighter, slated to arrive around 2026, boasts a 109-tonnes payload capacity with reduced fuel burn and emissions. 

Boeing, however, held off on launching the freighter variant of its upcoming 777X aircraft, which will soon become the largest certified twin-engine passenger plane in the world and was on hand in Dubai.

Mike Fleming, senior vice president in charge of commercial customer support and commercial derivative programs, cited the backlog that Boeing is experiencing with three commercial aircraft currently working towards certification. 

“Now, if all we had to do all fall, that was going on in our world was the freighter, we could get it done,” Fleming told reporters in Dubai of the 777X Freighter. Boeing’s 777-900, 737 Max 7, and 737 Max 10 aircraft have yet to be certified and the 777X project has already been delayed past its initial projections. 

Boeing 777X at Dubai Airshow 2021

The Boeing 777X at Dubai Airshow 2021.

Thomas Pallini/Insider

Fleming didn’t give an estimate on how long a 777X Freighter project would take but also did not foresee any potential challenges with the project. Boeing has introduced freighter variants of nearly every jet aircraft in its staple, including the 727, 737, 747, 757, and 767 aircraft flying today. 

“We’ve developed a lot of freighters, that’s something we do with almost all of our airplane models, Fleming said. “There’s always a freighter in the plan when we launch the airplane and it’s pretty straightforward.”

Israel Aerospace Industries earned a new client with Emirates committing to convert four of its Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft to freighter aircraft. It’s a natural fit, according to Nabil Sultan, Emirates SkyCargo’s divisional senior vice president, as Emirates has an extensive fleet of Boeing aircraft with some nearing the end of their passenger life. 

The “Big Twin,” as IAI calls the project, will be the largest twin-engine cargo plane in the skies and is among the replacement solutions to the Boeing 747. But Emirates isn’t diving completely headfirst into the conversion market as it also placed an order for two new Boeing 777-200 Freighter aircraft in an order valued at $704 million.  

Israel Aerospace Industries Boeing 777-300ER "Big Twin" cargo plane

Israel Aerospace Industries’ Boeing 777-300ER “Big Twin” cargo plane.

Israel Aerospace Industries

“When you have the mix, you’re able to address your market needs much [better] and I think that’s why we continue to buy new aircraft while we grow our converted equipment also, ” Sultan told Insider. 

Airbus gained its second customer for the A350 Freighter one day after the Dubai Airshow wrapped, announcing an impending deal with CMA CGM. Four A350F aircraft will join the shipping magnate’s fleet of five A330-200 Freighter aircraft and 545 seafaring vessels.