Boeing launched the freighter version of its 777X wide-body aircraft after securing a record order from Qatar Airways for up to 50 cargo planes, along with a similar number of 737 Max 10 jets, giving the US plane maker an edge over arch-rival Airbus.
The combined value of the deal is worth more than $30 billion at list prices, the companies said in a statement on Monday.
Qatar Airways placed a firm order for 34 new 777X freighters with an option for 16 more in a deal worth more than $20bn at current list prices.
The order is the largest freighter commitment in Boeing's history by value, it said. Deliveries of the new freighter are expected to begin in 2027.
Under the terms of the deal, Qatar Airways will convert 20 jets from a previous order of 60 777X passenger jets into the new 777-8 freighters. The 777-8 is part of the 777X family.
Qatar Airways also signed an order with General Electric worth $6.8bn for GE9X engines as part of its new freighters commitment, it said.
To bridge the gap until the delivery of the 777X cargo planes, Qatar Airways also ordered two current 777 freighters.
Qatar Airways also signed an initial agreement for a firm order of 25 aircraft from the 737 Max 10 family, with the option to buy 25 more. The deal is valued at about $7bn at current list prices.
The Max 10 is the largest variant in the 737 Max family.
"We are delighted to launch Boeing’s next great cargo airplane — the 777-8 Freighter," Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive Stan Deal said.
"Ninety per cent of the global dedicated freighter fleet is made up of Boeing airplanes. With global supply chains under pressure and high demand for e-commerce, the performance and capabilities of the fleet is more important than ever.”
Boeing shares surged on the orders, ending the day up 5.1 per cent at $200.24.
Boeing has long exerted dominance over the global air cargo market, with its line-up of jets — including the 747F, 767F and 777F models — making up most of the global freighter fleet.
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Boeing's 777X freighter, its first new jet model in about five years, comes at a time when the air cargo business is booming worldwide amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Driving that growth are consumers ordering items online that must be shipped quickly, as well as supply chain disruptions and delays at maritime ports.
Global demand for air cargo increased 6.9 per cent in 2021, compared with pre-coronavirus levels in 2019, and 18.7 per cent compared with 2020, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
This was the second-biggest improvement in annual demand — behind the 20.6 per cent gain in 2010 — since the industry group began to monitor cargo performance in 1990.
Iata director general Willie Walsh said that cargo growth is expected to continue this year.
“Economic conditions do point towards a strong 2022,” he said last week.
The freighter order will sustain more than 35,000 US jobs and provide the American economy with an annual estimated economic impact of $2.6bn during the contract’s delivery period, Boeing said.
The continued growth of the air cargo business has given airlines a lifeline after passenger revenue took a significant hit during the pandemic that ravaged air travel demand.
The 777X is well placed to meet the urgent demand for more cargo planes, according to analysts.
"The 777X builds on 777-300ER performance in terms of fuel efficiency, range and payload, as well as in environmental credentials," aviation analyst John Strickland said.
"In present passenger market conditions, 777X orders are modest as it looks too big for many airlines. [However], it provides an ideal opportunity for Boeing to tap into the buoyant cargo market with a new efficient vehicle for the future."
The replacement of ageing planes and acquisition of new jets for growth will create demand for 2,610 freighters globally in the next 20 years, Boeing said in its latest 2021-2040 market outlook.
Of these, 890 aircraft will be production freighters. The remaining 1,720 are expected to be passenger aircraft conversions, Boeing said.
Boeing's deal with Qatar Airways for the 777X freighters and the 737 Max 10 narrow-body jets comes as airline chief executive Akbar Al Baker is locked in a bitter dispute with Airbus over paint flaws in the passenger version of its A350 jets — a row in which a UK court decision is expected as early as April.
That dispute escalated after Airbus cancelled an order placed by the airline for 50 A321 narrow-body jets.
In 2021, the Toulouse-based plane maker unveiled a freighter version of the A350-1000 to challenge Boeing’s decades-long dominance of the cargo jet market.
“Today marks a great day in the ever-building and strong relationship between Qatar Airways and Boeing," Mr Al Baker said.
"We certainly push Boeing hard to deliver upon our expectations, and the team at Boeing consistently strives to meet and exceed our expectations, giving the opportunity for us to be here today to launch the most significant new freighter aircraft for a generation.”
The deal was signed at the White House during a diplomatic visit to Washington by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim.