Airbus to expand cargo conversion lines to US and China
Airbus plans to open a production line in the United States by the end of the year to convert used A321 passenger jets into cargo planes as part of an expansion strategy that will triple production of ‘by 2024 for narrow-body planes and the larger A330, according to a company official.
The aircraft manufacturer’s and its competitors’ investments in the aftermarket are designed to meet the growing demand from regular express delivery and all-cargo operators with high shipment volumes.
Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW), a joint venture between Airbus (DXE: AIR) and Singaporean company ST Engineering, is increasing its capacity to the point that it can produce around 60 converted aircraft per year for the conversion – around 30 each for the A330 and the new A321 narrow-body conversion programs – by 2024. That’s up from the 19 conversions he plans to do this year, spokeswoman Anke Lemke told FreightWaves.
The company is setting up a new conversion line in San Antonio for the small A321 program which is expected to end in December. It also plans to establish production facilities in China and the United States for the A330 reconfiguration in 2022, Lemke said. In each case, EFW will partner with existing cell repair facilities.
Converting used aircraft to a cargo configuration is a complex engineering task that requires extensive design work before cutting a large cargo door into the fuselage to load containers on the main deck, as well as reinforcing the floor. , add a rigid barrier to protect the cockpit and install a cargo handling system to maneuver containers.
EFW, Dresden, Germany, has so far converted only a dozen A330s (nine -300 plus three -200 variants) as the aircraft is still relatively young. DHL received eight of the conversions and ordered another 20, Cargo Facts reported. More and more mid-size wide-body aircraft are now available at reasonable prices as passenger airlines cut costs, align their fleets with lower travel demand, and prefer newer aircraft that consume less fuel. fuel, reject a lot of it. There are around 500 A330s in stock, according to Leeham News.
In August, BBAM Limited Partnership placed an order with EFW for 18 conversions from passenger to cargo of the A321, the largest order to date for new aircraft. EFW delivered its first A321 a year ago and has so far converted only a handful of small planes into pure cargo aircraft. EFW said at the time that most conversions for BBAM will be done at ST Engineering’s airframe facilities in the United States.
Almost all of EFW’s production slots for the A330 have been booked until 2026, and the company is fully booked until mid-2024 for the A321 program, Lemke said.
Analysts expect the A321 to be in high demand due to its ability to carry small containers in the lower deck, which speeds loading and unloading, and its energy efficiency 15% higher than the Boeing 737-800, its most direct competitor which has been in the market for almost four years. The raw material for the relatively young aircraft type is also high due to the pandemic damage to the airline industry, with continued incentive to release late model aircraft as the A321 passenger aircraft is still produced by Airbus.
Earlier this month, Israel Aircraft Industries announced plans to launch an A330 cargo aircraft conversion program with support from leasing company Avolon, which has ordered 30 modifications for the aircraft it will supply.
EFW rival 321 Precision Conversions recently announced that Greenwich Highland Aviation is one of the first to adopt its version of the A321 freighter. The aircraft rental company will send it two A321-200s in 2022 for conversion work, with the first reconfiguration starting in January. Airframe reassembly will be performed by HAECO Americas Authorized Partner in Lake City, Florida using the 321 Precision Retrofit Kit.
Greenwich Highland will lease the two cargo planes from Global Crossing (X) Airlines, a new Miami-based passenger and freight airline. GlobalX said the first A321 freighter is expected to enter service in July, followed by the second aircraft in December. The company leased a total of four planes but did not say which engineering house will transform the additional plane in 2023.
321 Precision is a joint venture between Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ: ATSG), which owns freight airlines, a leasing company and an engineering company specializing in Boeing 737 conversions, and Beaverton’s Precision Aircraft Solutions , Oregon, which made a name for itself. conversion of Boeing 757 aircraft. The company received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in April for its design to modify the structure of the A321 with a wide cargo door and other features, so that it could carry heavy goods on the main deck.
At the same time, the Franco-Luxembourgish airline Vallair recently delivered its third A321 cargo ship to SmartLynx Malta, the new cargo subsidiary of the Latvian passenger charter operator SmartLynx. The aircraft was the first A321 freight conversion carried out in China, where EFW opened its second production facility last spring.
SmartLynx operates cargo ships under contract with parcel carrier DHL Express.
Vallair, which went through EFW for conversion work, delivered the world’s first A321 freighter to Qantas Freight a year ago.
The air cargo sector is experiencing extremely strong growth, driven strongly by e-commerce, urgent and high-value goods such as COVID vaccines, massive shipping backlogs and growth in international trade.
Vallair estimates that the market for converted A321 freighters could grow in the hundreds over time.
Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.
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