At the Farnborough Air Show today, DHL Express signed a firm order with EFW for the passenger-to-freighter conversion of four A330-300 aircraft.
EFW, the MRO and conversion joint venture of ST Aerospace and Airbus, launched conversion programs for both the A330-200 and A330-300 several years ago, and in 2014 received a launch order for the -200P2F from Egyptair. However, the -300 variant, which Cargo Facts has long believed likely to be the more popular of the two, and which EFW had said would be the first to be converted, languished without an order… until now.
Medium widebody freighters, particularly the A300 and Boeing’s 767, are flown almost exclusively by or for the big express companies. DHL, FedEx, and UPS operate over 350 medium widebodies, and the A330-300, which has greater cargo volume than the -200, is an obvious candidate for consideration as the express companies expand and renew their fleets.
Given its seeming suitability, why has it taken this long for a launch order? Several reasons:
- First, with the exception of FedEx’s A310 and MD-10 freighters, the existing medium widebody fleets were not in urgent need of replacement, and FedEx chose to go with new-build 767-300Fs rather than opt for conversions.
- Second, the A330-300 was still popular with passenger operators, and suitable feedstock was difficult to find.
- Third, the A330 has a slightly nose-down attitude when on the ground. Not so extreme as to absolutely require a powered cargo loading system, but enough to raise the question of whether a manual CLS would be sufficient. In many applications a powered CLS is an obvious first choice, but for express airlines, with their generally lighter pallets and containers, the extra weight, cost, and chance of malfunction of a powered system have always been negative factors.
But time has marched on, fleets have continued to age, feedstock has finally become available, and DHL has taken the plunge.
Regarding the quantity, at first glance it may seem odd that a major express company would order just four of any aircraft type. But we believe that, if these four perform satisfactorily, a considerably larger order will follow.
The first of the four A330-300s (116, ex-Malaysia Airlines) was inducted for conversion early this week at EFW’s Dresden facility, and the company says it expects to redeliver the converted freighter to DHL by the end of 2017.