When Boeing introduced the 747-400F in 1993, the aircraft was offered as a replacement for the 747-200F and –SF converted passenger aircraft. The -400F offered an additional 7.5 tonnes of payload and 700 nautical miles in additional range, as well as lower maintenance costs associated with its vastly improved GE, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce high-bypass engines.
Why, then, are there 50 of these aircraft parked in the desert today? The Great Recession of 2008, measurably improved ocean container service, jet-fuel costs of US$4 per gallon, and the weak balance sheets of many all-cargo carriers all combined to make the -400F/ERF – and, especially, the converted passenger-plane special freighters – a high cost proposition, when compared with the newly introduced 777-200F. In 2015, have these economics changed?
Jet fuel today now costs less than $2 a gallon, or about 50 percent less. If a used -400F has a fair-market value of $20 million, with approximately half of the time remaining on its engines and air frame before overhaul, the numbers suggest today that the -400F can be operated at similar economics to the 777 freighter, all in. Remember, at $4 per gallon, fuel represented half of the direct operating costs for the -400F.