The Big Twin in Kalitta Air livery has emerged

The first converted B777-300ER, nicknamed The Big Twin, has come out of the paint hangar in the colours of Kalitta Air, ready to be introduced to the market.

The Big Twin in Kalitta Air livery at the Ethiopian Airlines MRO hangar in Addis Ababa IAI
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The Big Twin in Kalitta Air livery at the Ethiopian Airlines MRO hangar in Addis Ababa (Photo: Kalitta Air/LinkedIn)

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Almost five years after (October 2019) announcing the launch of the freighter conversion of the Boeing 777-300ER by aircraft lessor and financier GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS – now AerCap) in partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries Group (IAI), the Extended Range Special Freighter (ERSF), also called The BIG Twin, has come out in Kalitta Air livery from the Ethiopian Airlines maintenance hangar in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

When AerCap acquired the aircraft, registered as N779CK, and delivered it to the IAI conversion facility in Tel Aviv in June 2020, the aircraft had already completed 15 years of flying for Emirates. When the programme was announced in October 2019, AerCap expected the prototype conversion to take three years — from the achieving Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) and FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) approval. The BIG Twin was scheduled to enter into service in 2022. However, the programme is still waiting to have its certification completed by FAA. AerCap and IAI expect FAA approval to be done by the end of this year.

The conversion process was completed in early 2023 and the aircraft performed several test flights before it made its first public appearance at the Dubai Airshow in November last year. The aircraft, the prototype conversion, at the Dubai Airshow featured a special livery: “Big Twin” on the tail, Kalitta Air titles on the fuselage, and AerCap and IAI stickers.

The B777-300ERSF at the Dubai Airshow in November 2023 (Photo: Reji John)

The B777-300ERSF at the Dubai Airshow in November 2023 (Photo: Reji John)

Because of the excellent reputation of the Boeing 777-300ER in passenger transport, the newly converted cargo model has attracted significant interest from many cargo operators. AerCap and IAI have positioned the BIG Twin as the aircraft that could eventually replace the 747-8F, whose production line has already been shut down. They claim that the 777-300ERSF offers 25% more cargo capacity compared to the B777F, the production freighter which is based on the 777-200LR. The plane can carry 101.6 tonnes of payload while consuming 21% less fuel than the B747F.

As per the AerCap fact sheet, as of 31 March 2024, it has a firm order book of 20 B777-300ERSF aircraft and a further ten options. Besides the US cargo operator Kalitta Air, other buyers include Emirates SkyCargo, EVA Air Cargo, Challenge Group, Fly Meta, Hongyuan, Central Airlines, Cargojet, Jiangxi Air and Altavair.

AerCap has claimed that once the FAA certification is completed subsequent conversions should average four to five months. In fact, the second converted B777-300ERSF from IAI had taken off to the skies in November last year. IAI is in the process of converting three more.

The booming e-commerce industry is fueling a need for more cargo aircraft to carry packages around the world. Therefore, there is a huge demand for the B777-300ERSF, the world's largest twin-engine cargo plane capable of carrying more cargo and be more efficient than its predecessors. However, the certification process has delayed the entry of this aircraft into market inordinately.

Computer rendering of The BIG Twin (Photo: IAI)

Computer rendering of The BIG Twin (Photo: IAI)

Meanwhile, IAI has also established a few more Boeing 777 conversion facilities around the world. It has established a new facility together with Incheon International Airport and Sharp Technics in South Korea. Within the framework of the agreement, IAI will convert six B777-300ER and B777-200LR per year, starting in 2024. IAI signed an agreement with Etihad Engineering to establish a passenger-to-freighter conversion site for B777-3000ER aircraft in Abu Dhabi. In September 2023, IAI announced that it would open two new freighter conversion lines for its 777-300ERSF programme in Arizona, partnering with Marana-based Ascent Aviation Services in a fifteen-year agreement.

Emirates is likely to choose the Abu Dhabi site to have its B777-300ERs converted to freighters. The Dubai-based carrier has an agreement with IAI to concert 10 of their B777-300ERs. In fact Emirates has the largest stock feed of B777-300ER in the world.

“Establishing more P2F aircraft conversion facilities around the world is necessary in order to meet the expected rise in demand for wide-body freighter aircraft with capacity for long flights,” IAI had said in an earlier statement.

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