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At a time when large widebody freighters are in hot demand, the supply of Boeing 777 freighters is affected by problems.

Issues with engine production hobbled Boeing’s ability to deliver new 777 cargo planes earlier this year, and converted 777s appear to be further from the runway than anticipated.

At this point there is no indication when US aviation authorities are going to give the green light to conversion programmes to turn 777s into cargo aircraft.

The string of revelations and problems around the aircraft maker’s safety record suggests the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has its hands full, which could affect the certification process for 777 conversions.

IAI Aviation Group has been the frontrunner among the three players that have embarked on 777 programmes. Back in April it had completed most of the certification process and was waiting for the FAA to conduct its part. Yaacov Berkovitz, IAI’s VP and general manager of conversions and upgrades, was expecting to get FAA certification by now, or early in the third quarter.

The Loadstar has not received a response from IAI for an update, but according to one source familiar with the certification process, IAI was supposed to bring its first converted 777F to the US for the FAA tests, but so far it has not arrived.

“This tells me they are months away from any thought of certification,” said the source, noting that the full process can take a couple of months, which means it is unlikely it will be completed before Q4.

Reportedly, the FAA has been co-operating with the firms working on 777 conversions, but the turn time for documentation and action has been described as “extremely slow”.

It is no secret that the regulator’s resources have been stretched, a fact that repeatedly raised attention in the coverage of Boeing’s safety record – the agency had left oversight of a number of safety aspects to the aircraft manufacturer itself.

At the US Senate aviation committee on 14 June, FAA head Mike Whitaker admitted that the agency had been too lax with Boeing. he said: “The FAA’s approach was too hands-off, too focused on paperwork audits and not focused enough on inspections.”

Since an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 8 lost a panel from its fuselage in January, the FAA has stepped up its oversight of Boeing, increasing the number of its inspectors there and fuselage supplier Spirit AeroSystems, from 24 to more than 30. Its goal is to raise this to 55 inspectors.

And scrutiny of Boeing is going to get even tighter after whistleblower reports alleging a ‘systemic disregard for documentation and accountability for faulty parts’ at the plane- maker and its offshoot. According to the latest allegations, Boeing lost track of hundreds of defective parts and attempted to hide evidence of this from the authorities.

Another whistleblower accused Spirit of having delivered defective fuselages for years.

As well as increased scrutiny, it also suggests that the authority will be loathe to hasten any decisions involving Boeing aircraft, incase it could be accused of going soft on the manufacturer.

Moreover, its tight manpower situation is not likely to free personnel to certify freighter conversion programmes, and it is also unclear when the FAA will certify the 777X model or the 737 Max 10. Having ended the production of 777-200s and -300s in anticipation of the market entry of the 777X, Boeing has not delivered a 777 passenger plane in over two years.

Chances of converted 777 freighters alleviating the capacity constraints in the months ahead look rather slim.

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