US-based conversion specialist Aeronautical Engineers, Inc (AEI) booked a firm order for fifteen 737-800 passenger-to-freighter conversions, with an option for fifteen more, from an unidentified customer.
That order, combined with recent launch order announcements from Boeing and PACAVI, makes this a good time to take a look at the overall state of the new narrowbody conversion programs.
For the last three years, orders for 737 Classic and 757-200 freighter conversions have been pouring in at such a rate that the conversion houses can hardly keep up with demand. But despite the rush of activity in the existing conversion programs, the subject of real interest during this period has been the launch of new conversion programs for the 737 NG, and A320/A321 aircraft families.
Who would launch? For what aircraft type? Who would order? In what quantity?
As shown in the chart at right, five companies have now launched eight passenger-to-freighter conversion programs for four aircraft types. Regarding customers and quantity, the picture is gradually becoming clearer, but since these programs are still in their very early days, and since the chart does not include options and commitments, one has to be careful about drawing conclusions.
However, even with that caveat firmly in mind, one conclusion is hard to avoid: the 737-800 is going to be a popular freighter. Of the ninety-one firm orders so far booked for freighter conversion of these new narrowbody types, eighty – almost 90% – are for 737-800s.
Does this mean the other new programs will not be successful? Of course not. If, a year from now, there are still hardly any orders for either 737-700, A320, or A321 conversions, it might be reasonable to conclude that conversion programs for that type are in trouble, but at present, it is too early to say.