This week, US-based Aeronautical Engineers, Inc. (AEI) was awarded an FAA Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the conversion of passenger 737-800 airframes to freighter configuration. Redelivery of the first freighter-converted 737-800SF (29121, ex-Correndon Airlines) to launch operator Ethiopian Airlines is expected in a matter of weeks.
Touch labor for AEI’s second 737-800SF (32613, ex-China Southern Airlines) has already been completed at the Commercial Jet facility in Miami, and redelivery will follow shortly after the FAA issues parts manufacturer approval (PMA). Both 737-800SFs entering the Ethiopian Airlines fleet will be on lease from GECAS and were part of a two-aircraft deal announced in January 2018. AEI told Cargo Facts that it expects to induct the third and subsequent 737-800 for conversion by mid-2019.
Following the first two redeliveries to Ethiopian Airlines, AEI’s order backlog for 737-800SF conversions includes firm orders and options for an estimated 63 units including:
GECAS: 18 units; likely 8 firm and ten options
Aviation Capital Group: 15 firm orders, and 15 options
To accommodate future demand for 737-800SF conversions, AEI also announced it was designating Jinan-based STAECO as an authorized conversion center for the program. STAECO has a long history of performing touch labor for various conversions starting with 737 classic conversions for PEMCO. Most recently, STAECO was named as a second conversion center for Boeing’s 737-800BCF passenger-to-freighter conversion program. In July, STAECO converted its first 737-800, and Boeing subsequently redelivered the aircraft to Air Algérie. In addition to STAECO and Commercial Jet Miami, AEI plans to convert 737-800s at the KF Aerospace facility in Kelowna, and at the Commercial Jet facility in Dothan.
Although conversion of AEI’s conformity aircraft was completed in December, the partial government shutdown in the United States delayed the issuance of an STC for the program until this year. Still, AEI becomes only the second conversion program to receive an STC for conversion of the 737-800 in what is set to become a more crowded space. Boeing received FAA and EASA STCs for it 737-800BCF conversion program in April 2017, and Israel-based Bedek Aviation Group is in the process of obtaining STC certification for a competing 737-800 conversion program.
Looking at other active narrowbody conversion programs and those in development, the chart at right shows at least three other narrowbody platforms will be available from six companies. PEMCO expects an FAA STC to be issued for its 737-700 passenger-to-Flex Combi imminently. Airbus-family narrowbody conversions, meanwhile, are still a bit further out into the future. 321 Precision Conversions (the joint venture formed between Precision Aircraft Solutions and ATSG), announced that the company cut metal on its A321-200 P-to-F program earlier this month, and expects certification of the converted freighter in 1Q 2020. EFW expects certification of its A321-200 P-to-F by the end of this year, and of the A320 in 2020.
With the continued success of existing conversions programs, including those for both the 737 Classics and 757-200, however, it will be at least a few years before deliveries of the newer types starts to accelerate.
Those interested in learning more about narrowbody freighter conversions are invited to join us at Cargo Facts Asia 2019, to be held 15-17 at the Langham Shanghai. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com. Discounted early-bird registration ends 1 March.