Today, we conclude our two-part analysis of the passenger-to-freighter conversion market. In the first part yesterday, we began with a look at the increasing number of narrowbody conversion programs for Next Generation, or NG, aircraft. In the second part today, we take a look at the six conversion houses that currently offer passenger-to-freighter conversion programs for jet aircraft.
The six major conversion houses, in alphabetical order, are: AEI, Boeing, EFW, IAI, PEMCO and Precision Aircraft Solutions/321 Precision Conversions.
AEI was formed in 1958 in Miami and offered maintenance services for more than a decade before doing its first cargo conversion – providing a large cargo door for a DC-6 aircraft in 1970. Since then, the company has developed more than 120 STCs and redelivered more than 400 freighter-converted aircraft. Types converted include the Douglas DC-6, Lockheed L188, Convair 340/440, Convair 880, Douglas, DC-8, Boeing 727-100 and 727-200, Lockheed L1011, Boeing 737-200, 737-300, 737-400, 737-800 McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Series and Bombardier CRJ200.
In February, AEI received an FAA STC for its 737-800SF program and redelivered the first two freighter-converted units to GECAS shortly after. Both aircraft are now operated by Ethiopian Airlines. While its 737 NG program ramps up, AEI continues to offer P-to-F conversions of 737 Classics, the MD-80 series and the CRJ200.
The state of AEI’s currently active conversion programs:
737-800SF: Total program conversions to date: 2. Total to date in 2019: 2. Estimate for 2020: 12.
737-400SF: Total program conversions to date: 117. Total to date in 2019: 5. Estimate for 2020: 10.
MD-80 series: Total program conversions to date: 17. Total to date in 2019: 1. Estimate for 2020: 8.
CRJ200SF: Total program conversions to date: 12. Total to date in 2019: 2. Estimate for 2019: 5
Most of the production freighters in service today were built by Boeing, and the company has long been active in the widebody freighter conversion market, most recently with Boeing Converted Freighter (BCF) programs for the 747-400 and 767-300. In 2016, Boeing entered the narrowbody conversion space with the launch of the 737-800BCF program. Boeing ended its 747-400BCF conversion program in 2013, but it has long been considering a 777 passenger-to-freighter conversion program.
After redelivering the first freighter-converted 737-800BCF to GECAS last year, program redeliveries have accelerated into 2019, with GECAS continuing to field most of the redeliveries. Year-to-date, eleven -800BCFs have been redelivered. In June, Boeing forecasted redeliveries to number 17 in 2019. A similar number of conversions are expected next year as well, though Boeing did not provide a figure.
The state of Boeing’s currently active conversion programs:
737-800BCF: Total program conversions to date: 16. Estimate for 2020: 17. Conversion backlog: 104 units.
767-300BCF: Total program conversions to date: 38. Conversion backlog: 9
Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) is a joint venture between ST Engineering Aerospace, which holds a 55% stake, and Airbus, which holds the other 45%. EFW currently has four active conversion programs.
The state of EFW’s active conversion programs:
A300-600P2F: EFW has one more A300-600P2F (725, ex-China Eastern) left to be completed and redelivered to China-based Uni-Top Airlines, bringing total program conversions to 77. EFW is still waiting for a missing component, but it expects to redeliver the frame by the end of the year. This aircraft is the seventh for Uni-Top and will be the only A300 conversion redelivered by EFW in 2019, after which the program will be terminated.
A321P2F: Having inducted the first A321P2F for conversion in Singapore (XSP) last year, EFW is expecting to obtain the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the A321 conversion program in the fourth quarter of 2019. The first aircraft (835, ex-Onur Air) is destined for Luxembourg-based Vallair, which recently revealed that it would be leasing the frame to Australian carrier Qantas. According to EFW, unit 835 will “most likely” be redelivered in the first quarter of 2020, following additional services and certifications that need to be performed on the aircraft. EFW expects to redeliver a total of four A321P2Fs in 2020.
A330-200P2F: EFW redelivered the second A330-200P2F (709) to EgyptAir Cargo this February and says it will redeliver the third (610) in October. Like the first frame (600), both previously were operated by Egyptair in passenger configuration. Despite potential further interest for the type, EFW doesn’t expect to deliver any more converted A330-200s after that, either in 2019 or 2020, due to lack of available capacity.
A330-300P2F: Redelivery of the third A330-300P2F (231, ex-Thai Airways) to launch customer DHL Express is imminent. This aircraft has completed conversion and has been carrying out test flights around Dresden (DRS). EFW also inducted the fourth A330-300 (777, ex-China Eastern) for conversion during the second half of 2019, and expects to redeliver that frame, along with two others, to DHL in 2020. After that, EFW will have two more A330-300P2F conversions on firm order for DHL, along with options for 10 more.
A320P2F: While not yet formally active, EFW has an A320P2F program in the works, with induction of the first aircraft having been pushed back until at least the fourth quarter of 2019 due to high demand for the A321P2F.
Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Aviation Group currently has four active conversion programs. IAI declined to provide any numbers for orders and redeliveries, so we have had to give our best estimate here, based on known redeliveries.
The state of IAI’s currently active conversion programs:
737-700BDSF: IAI redelivered the second 737-700BDSF (30512, ex-Xiamen Airlines) to Spectre Air Capital, which then leased it to SpiceJet in April. Another frame (29084) was redelivered to SpiceJet in July, also on lease from Spectre.
737-800BDSF: IAI expects to receive an STC for its 737-800BDSF program imminently. The conformity aircraft for IAI’s 737-800 (30498, ex-Transaero Airlines) has steadily been operating test flights around Tel Aviv (TLV), while the second aircraft also has completed conversion, according to IAI.
767-200BDSF: Two 767-200s currently are in TLV and will eventually be converted for Canada-based Cargojet. The carrier is expecting to take redelivery of the first one in 4Q19 and the second in 2Q20.
767-300BDSF: IAI has redelivered six 767-300BDSFs so far in 2019, with five of them going to Cargo Aircraft Management (CAM). At least four frames currently are in conversion with IAI in Tel Aviv (TLV). We wouldn’t be surprised if all four end up being redelivered by the end of the year. For 2020, we would expect IAI to convert and redeliver around ten 767-300s.
Air Transport Services Group bought PEMCO from Sun Capital in 2017 and, four months later at the Cargo Facts Asia 2017 event in Shanghai, announced the launch of two new conversion programs for the 737-700. One was a straight passenger-to-freighter conversion (with nine pallet positions), and the other, under the name FlexCombi, will convert passenger 737-700s into a variable configuration that offers two combo options (six pallet/twenty-four passenger and seven pallet/twelve passenger), as well as an eight-pallet, cargo-only configuration. The first FlexCombi conversion was completed this year at PEMCO’s Tampa (TPA) facility, for launch to customer Chisholm Enterprises (for UAE-based end user Texel Air). An STC for the program is expected later this year.
PEMCO declined to provide any information regarding its conversions to date, or its backlog. We note, however, that PEMCO has a healthy backlog of 737 Classic Conversions.
PEMCO will redeliver a total of four 737-300Fs to Rostrum Leasing this year. The Ireland-based lessor acquired 39 ex-Southest Airlines -300s and has an option for four more conversions.
Additionally, PEMCO continues to convert 737-400QCs to 737-400 full-freighter configuration. Year-to-date, the company has redelivered three additional Classic conversions and, apart from the Rostrum units, will likely redeliver two more by year end for a total of at least nine redeliveries in 2019.
Precision Aircraft Solutions/321 Precision Conversions
Precision Aircraft Solutions (previously Precision Conversions) began to undertake the engineering, prototyping and certification of a 757-200 passenger-to-freighter conversion program in 2001. Since then, the program has been extremely successful.
In 2014, Precision Conversions widened its focus to include a variety of aviation-related services and rebranded as Precision Aircraft Solutions. It still only offered 757-200 P-to-F and P-to-Combi conversions but, with the end of the 757 era on the horizon, began looking at other possibilities. That search reached its conclusion with the formation, in August 2017, of 321 Precision Conversions, a joint venture with Air Transport Services Group, to develop a passenger-to-freighter conversion program for the Airbus A321-200 aircraft.
At the Cargo Facts Symposium in San Diego in October 2018, 321 Precision Conversions and Luxembourg-based lessor and aircraft manager Vallair Capital announced that Vallair, through its wholly owned subsidiary Vallair Solutions sàrl, was the launch customer for the program. However, the A321 conversion program is scheduled to be in prototype throughout 2019, with production not set to begin until 2020.
The state of Precision Aircraft Solutions’ currently active conversion programs:
757-200: Total program conversions to date: 120. Total in 2019: 5 to date with 7 more redeliveries expected before year-end. Estimate for 2020: 12-14.
A321-200: Total program conversions through the end of 2019: 0. Estimate for 2020: 2.
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