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Nearly six decades ago, hauling cargo was the inspiration for the iconic shape of the Boeing 747. Joe Sutter, the legendary engineer that led Boeing’s design team, remarked that the upper deck sat above the passenger cabin of the airplane because once the world was flying supersonic, his jumbo jet would live on as a freighter.

“It was this anticipated alternate use that made the 747 program economically viable from the company’s point of view,” the late Sutter wrote in his memoir. “The 747 had to be an excellent freighter, not just an excellent passenger plane.”

Boeing on Monday launched its first new airplane in a half decade, transforming its 777X flagship around a post-pandemic era shaped by freight and e-commerce. That followed Airbus’s own November launch of the A350 freighter, marking the shortest duration in which Boeing and Airbus have launched two new directly competing airplanes.

A confluence of forces brought the 777-8F into existence. First, the approaching conclusion of the 747-8F later in 2022, Airbus’s encroachment on Boeing’s freighter dominance with the A350, coming 2028 ICAO emission restrictions that will end production of today’s 767 and 777 freighters, and slack demand for large passenger planes amid a pandemic that has sent e-commerce booming.

Yet, embedded in the designs of both new super freighters is a reversal of sorts and illustrative of how much the pandemic has shifted the fortunes of twin-aisle passenger aircraft. It is a new willingness on the part of Boeing and Airbus to make significant changes to their passenger planes to create bespoke specifications for the world’s cargo haulers in a bid to reconstitute once-booming production lines.

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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