In a year that has seen rising interest in 737NG conversions, at least four companies new to the model have placed orders for up to eleven 737-800Fs so far in 2020, with more yet to be disclosed or announced.
The following chart shows orders for 737 family and A321 conversions since January 2019.
|Allied Air||2 firm + 2 options||Owned||-|
|ASL Airlines||10 firm + 10 options||Owned||-|
|Aircraft Finance Germany||2||Lessor||Unknown|
|BBAM||2||Lessor||China Postal Airlines|
|BlackRock||Up to 3||Lessor||Unknown|
|GA Telesis||1 firm + 1 option||Lessor||Unknown|
|GECAS||10 firm + 15 options||Lessor||Unknown|
|GECAS||11 firm + 9 options||Lessor||Unknown|
|Royal Aero||1||Lessor||ASL Airlines|
Many 2020 deals would have been in the works since before the COVID-19 crisis, but orders appear to be accelerating as feedstock dynamics shift, airfreight capacity remains in short supply, and a slow recovery in passenger aviation is expected.
Nigeria-based Allied Air, which has three 737-400SFs, started the year off with a firm order in March for two 737-800SFs from Aeronautical Engineers Inc. (AEI), along with two options. In May, BlackRock ordered up to three AEI-converted 737-800SFs, while in July, Aircraft Finance Germany firm-ordered two 737-800BCFs with Boeing and GA Telesis signed a deal with AEI for up to two 737-800SFs.
But lessors that already had 737-800BCFs in service with operators before this year continued to invest in the model. BBAM, which leased two aircraft to China Postal Airlines in 2019, placed an order for three more in February. The first two aircraft in that order (29052, ex-Aeromexico, and 28608, ex-Air Italy) were inducted in May at the Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Company Ltd. (GAMECO) facility in Guangzhou (CAN) and the Taikoo (Shandong) Aircraft Engineering Company Ltd. (STAECO) facility in Jinan (TNA), respectively.
GECAS, by far the largest owner of 737-800BCFs, will take its portfolio to at least sixty of the type, after recently firming up options for eleven.
Meanwhile, a 737-800 (28231, ex-Smartwings) that, as of the end of July was registered to Aero Capital Solutions, was ferried to TNA in early August, and could either account for an unidentified customer or be indicative of an impending announcement. The lessor, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, would be yet another new player in the 737NG conversion market.
Last year, in contrast, was a relatively quiet year for NG narrowbody conversion orders. Blamed on STC delays for new programs stemming from government shutdowns and backlogs at regulatory agencies that resulted from the global grounding of the 737 MAX, which also tightened feedstock availability. Most 2019 orders came from entities with existing commitments to the programs. In 2019, GECAS upped its orders and commitments, as did ASL Airlines, which leased 737-800BCFs before placing an order for ten conversions, and options for up to ten more with Boeing.
Despite the relatively limited number of new customers for 737-800 conversions, 2019 did see interest from operators previously unfamiliar with the type. New 737-800 operators for 2019 included China Postal Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Southern Air and Tianjin Air Cargo. Garuda Indonesia also announced its intention to lease two 737-800BCFs from GECAS.
While many of the 737-800Fs added to the backlog in the current year don’t appear to have confirmed airline lessees linked to them yet, 2020 will end with at least two new operators in the form of Allied Air, which should soon receive its first 737-800SF (36846, ex-Jet Airways), and Russia-based S7 Airlines, which expects its first of two 737-800BCFs in November, on lease from GECAS.
Garuda Indonesia, which had ordered two 737-800BCFs from GECAS last October, had been anticipating a mid-2020 delivery, but the status of that deal is currently unclear.
In the months ahead, Cargo Facts wouldn’t be surprised to see continuing diversification of the narrowbody freighter space, from both lessor and operator perspectives, especially with the imminent entry into service of EFW’s A321F and as 321 Precision Conversions gears up for the first flight and eventual certification of its A321 conversion program.