The market for converting used passenger jets into freighters is more subdued this year amid a prolonged downturn in freight demand, but there is still plenty of work to be done fulfilling earlier orders and some new ones.
Indian low-cost passenger airline IndiGo recently received its third Airbus A321-200 converted freighter. IndiGo is leasing the plane from AerCap, the world’s largest aircraft leasing company, which last year reserved 15 production slots with Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH, an Airbus joint venture, for the A321 passenger-to-freighter conversion. AerCap announced the delivery, which took place at EFW affiliate ST Engineering’s facility in Singapore, on Tuesday.
IndiGo began freighter operations last November with its first A321 converted freighter, also built by EFW but provided by a different lessor.
The Indian carrier is operating the freighters on domestic and short-haul international routes, complementing the wider cargo network supported by passenger aircraft. Freighters provide more guaranteed capacity than passenger aircraft, where payloads can vary by the number of passengers and baggage carried.
IndiGo is cautious about further expansion of the cargo fleet considering the global airfreight market is down about 8% to 10% since early 2022 and is not showing signs of a rebound, according to a recent story by The Loadstar.
Orders for new freighter conversions have significantly shrunk in 2023, but conversion shops are expected to set a record for deliveries this year as they work through a backlog of orders. Experts warn the market could soon be oversaturated with narrowbody freighters if shipping demand doesn’t bounce back soon.
The A321 converted freighter can carry more than 25 tons of cargo at a range of 2,300 nautical miles.
Meanwhile, EFW’s latest conversion center has commenced operation. The company said Monday that contractor Turkish Technic in Istanbul is now removing passenger interiors, cutting the airframe and adding a large cargo door, installing a protective barrier in front of the cockpit and a container handling system as part of the conversion process. Turkish Technic, the maintenance, repair and overhaul center of Turkish Airlines, signed with EFW in the fall of 2022 to convert Airbus A330 widebody aircraft.
EFW has a total of nine modification sites worldwide for the A320/321 and A330 aircraft. EFW, which designed the airframe modification, leads the program while ST Engineering provides much of the hands-on labor. The partners have set up conversion sites in Asia, the United States and Europe to meet demand for used cargo jets.
The A330-200 variant has a gross payload of 67 tons at a maximum range of more than 4,100 nautical miles, while the larger A330-300 can carry 69 tons and a containerized volume of more than 18,500 cubic feet.
In related news, Miami-based Aeronautical Engineers Inc. announced last week that Air Inuit, a Canadian airline owned by the Inuit tribe in Canada, has placed an order for conversions of three Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which competes with the A321 in the standard freighter category.
Two of the aircraft will be turned into combination aircraft, meaning they will have a sliding bulkhead that allows the operator to combine passenger and cargo configurations on the main level. AEI said the first aircraft, a full freighter, is slated to begin modification in November and be redelivered in late March. The work will be performed by authorized AEI conversion center KF Aerospace in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Notably, AEI isn’t involved with combination configuration. It will provide the design and modification kits to KF Aerospace for a typical cargo conversion and KF Aerospace will design, kit and certify the combi portion of the modification, said Robert Convey, AEI’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.
The three 737-800 are only 11 years old, which is young for conversions. They were previously operated by Kulula, a low-cost South African carrier, and parent Comair — both of which went out of business in 2022.
The second and third aircraft are scheduled to enter the KF Aerospace maintenance hangar in March and July of next year.
Air Inuit provides domestic passenger, charter and cargo services from Montreal to the northern Quebec territories with a fleet of five older Boeing 737 variants with combination capabilities, as well as 17 De Havilland Dash-8 combi and cargo aircraft, according to Airfleets.net.
Click here for more FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.
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