U.K.-based Avensis Aviation has launched a multitiered portfolio of A330 cargo modifications that could include, in the longer term, a full-freighter conversion for the A330.
Avensis, formally registered in October 2020, is headed by Chief Executive Officer Cristian Sutter, who joined the startup Feb. 1, with a background in passenger aircraft cabins and interior modifications. The company started off with a basic team of five people last year, with the idea taking shape around September. Soon after, a small group joined after being made redundant from another aviation company. The team now consists of around fifteen people and is anticipated to grow to around sixty or seventy.
“Avensis in its current form would not have existed, if not for the pandemic,” Sutter said, referring to both the availability of people with aerospace engineering and certification experience and the three products the company offers. Two products stem from the lack of cargo capacity caused by reduced passenger flying due to COVID-19.
The first and least invasive level of passenger aircraft modification Avensis offers is “Levis,” which is similar to the option several other companies have offered: a light reconfiguration achieved by removing seats to allow for cargo to be strapped with nets secured to the seat track. This modification only addresses an immediate, short-term need, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has only approved such modifications until the end of 2021. Avensis will soon secure its third airline customer for Levis.
Since March 2020, Cargo Facts has recorded over 200 passenger aircraft being reconfigured through seat removal, with the most popular type being the 777-300ER.
Taking it farther
The intermediate tier, called “Medius,” will not be time-limited like Levis. It is “as far as you can modify a passenger airliner and as close to a full freighter as you can take it without permanently altering the fuselage structure,” Sutter said. Medius involves turning the cabin into a Class E or Class F cargo compartment by removing all cabin monuments, such as lavatories and overhead compartments, and installing a supernumerary compartment, a smoke curtain and modifications to the environmental control and smoke-detection systems. The process, which is completely reversible, requires a total downtime of around six weeks.
Avensis signed TAP Air Portugal as a launch customer for Medius on the A330-200 around the end of last year, and expects to obtain an STC from EASA in the next couple of months. TAP already reconfigured two A330-900s around mid-2020 and two A330-200s in late 2020, but those were Levis modifications.
AELF FlightService, which recently acquired Maleth-Aero and launched its ACMI business with reconfigured A330-200s last year, told Cargo Facts that it has been taking “an in-depth look” at a medium freight concept and is in talks with several engineering firms about such an option. “We view this as a longer-term, more permanent solution for e-commerce, with less dense cargo on the upper deck,” the company said. “We hope to be able to offer this type of solution on a charter and ACMI basis as we transition from auxiliary freight configuration in the coming year.”
A competitor to EFW’s A330P2F?
Apart from the two reversible reconfigurations, Avenis is also developing “Navis,” a full-freighter conversion that would go head-to-head with Elbe Flugzeugwerke’s (EFW) A330P2F program, and involves the installation of both a cargo door and a cargo loading system.
Sutter told Cargo Facts that two major differentiators of Avensis’ cargo door design are its failsafe plug design and its position in the nontapered section of the fuselage, farther aft than EFW’s door. This configuration is intended to allow for a full ULD position forward of the door that would be loaded first so the rest of the main deck could be loaded without ballast.
With this concept, Avensis hopes to avoid the use of complex jigs and tooling, Sutter said. To that end, Avensis’ strategy is to offer the brokering of MRO locations that will mitigate constraints in slot allocations at designated facilities. “We’re already engaging in advanced conversations with facilities in Europe and East Asia,” said Sutter. “We’re also looking at some in North and South America.”
While program design and development are already ongoing, Avensis is working to launch the STC program for Navis by gathering a minimum number of customer commitments to make it an appealing proposition commercially, and to offset the development costs. Sutter said he is seeing an equal level of interest from both lessors and operators, and that Avensis hopes to be able to define a clear roadmap and timeline in the next few months, with the aim of making the initial STC application by the end of 2021.
Sutter believes the Medius option will be particularly appealing to airlines or lessors that may not be ready to fully commit to permanent conversions, and said that having a range of modifications taps into a broader spectrum of the market, including lessors, passenger airlines and established cargo operators. Some, like TAP, may even progress through multiple tiers.
EFW first announced its A330P2F program in 2012, and received an STC for the -300P2F in 2017; it received an STC for the -200P2F in 2018. To date, EFW has redelivered three A330-200P2Fs to EgyptAir and six A330-300P2Fs to DHL Express. The two carriers had been the only known customers for the program until recently, with Stratos, CDB Aviation and Turkmenistan Airlines all ordering A330 conversions in the past twelve months.
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) also told Cargo Facts last year that its next conversion after the 767 will be the A330-300, although the details of that program are currently not known.
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