Redeliveries of freighter-converted A321Fs have commenced, but it may be a few years before large numbers of A320-family aircraft are converted.
A321-200 feedstock values remain elevated above the perceived sweet spot for conversion, and the continued availability of 757-200 feedstock will limit the number of investors and operators looking to jump into the platform in the near term, according to appraisers and lessors at Cargo Facts Symposium 2020.
“I think the A321 is obviously the heir of the 757 segment,” said Mark Halsor, president of aircraft appraisal firm AISI. “But I don’t see it getting a jumpstart from the pandemic,” he added. Feedstock would need to drop a bit more to spur a “rush” to the platform, reckoned Halsor. Airframe cost aside, Halsor said it’s also too early to calculate the conversion cost for the various STCs in development, though the numbers floating around have been “north of $6 [million].”
For now, the availability of 757 feedstock continues to propel conversions. Larger operators of the type in passenger service, including American Airlines and Icelandair, have accelerated retirement timelines to remove older airframes from their fleets. Precision Aircraft Solutions recently told Cargo Facts it expects to redeliver sixteen 757-200PCFs next year, up from the eleven redeliveries expected this year.
There is also a chance the -200 variant won’t sunset 757 freighter conversions. Chatter around the possibility of launching a 757-300 freighter conversion program persists, despite the airframe’s low production numbers totaling just fifty-four aircraft. If large pockets of 757-300s are suddenly retired, a conversion program could yet be launched.
Eventually, however, there will come a point when the in-service 757 freighter fleet will need to be replaced. Up against costly maintenance checks, modernization becomes more appealing, especially considering the potential to utilize containers in the lower deck.
“As a long-term it’s a good play for freighter conversion,” said Halsor.
In the meantime, while the availability of 757 airframes may delay some would-be operators of the A321-200 from adding the type to their fleet, the calculus is different for lessors or combination carriers with A321-200s already in their portfolio, according to Halsor.
The next question becomes which A321-200 conversion STC will capture the segment. The first EFW-converted A321-200P2F entered service with Qantas in October and 321 Precision Conversions is nearing an STC for its program. Sine Draco, meanwhile, has acquired its conformity aircraft and will soon induct it for an STC target date of late 2021, or early 2022.
Initial maintenance checks could be telling, noted Tracy Medve, president of KF Aerospace, during a panel discussing narrowbody freighters. The initial post-conversion heavy maintenance checks “could dictate the predominance of the STC that’s going to hold the market,” she said.