SmartLynx will also be the first operator to have A321-200Fs converted by both 321 Precision Conversions and Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW). The carrier confirmed to Cargo Facts that, in addition to unit 891 (ex-Air Mediterranee), it will also take unit 1017, the first A321 to be converted by EFW at the ST Aerospace (Guangzhou) Aviation Services facility in Guangzhou (CAN), scheduled to be inducted around November. Both are being leased from Luxembourg-based Vallair, which had previously told Cargo Facts it planned to induct the first of three aircraft there earlier this year.
SmartLynx isn’t stopping there. The airline told Cargo Facts it is in discussions for further aircraft, with plans for a fleet of ten A321Fs by 2023. SmartLynx may also consider converting some of the A321s in its existing fleet to manage its exposure to unfavorable lease agreements, especially since the passenger market is expected to take years to recover.
In considering freighter models, SmartLynx said it had looked at 737 Classics, 737NGs and A321s, but quickly settled on the A321 as the top choice, calling it “a complete game-changer” on several fronts, including its favorable environmental performance, payload and commonality with the rest of the fleet. The carrier is also exploring A320 conversions, which California-based C3 Aerospace is already working on and which EFW will soon begin.
SmartLynx told Cargo Facts it decided to go for both STCs because both are high-quality products and it wanted to offer customers the flexibility to compare and choose according to their requirements, despite minor differences in direct operational costs.
The foray into freighters is a significant step for SmartLynx Malta, established in 2019, and a subsidiary of the Latvia-based SmartLynx Airlines. The group, which has Latvian, Estonian and Maltese AOCs, specializes in ACMI and charter services with a fleet that currently stands at twelve A320s and A321s for the upcoming winter season. The carrier said it had planned to diversify into cargo even before the pandemic, a natural expansion strategy due to the integration with and acquisition by Cyprus-headquartered Avia Solutions Group, the parent of a number of companies already operating in the cargo market, including charter broker Chapman Freeborn, U.K.-based Magma Aviation, and more recently, Iceland-based Bluebird Nordic.
SmartLynx gained more exposure to cargo operations early in the pandemic and launched a separate cargo business in April, offering a combination of standard and reconfigured A320s and A321s for cargo-only flights.
Unit 891, which recently conducted its first test flight around Sanford (SFB), was seen on its first taxi test in July. SmartLynx said it plans to start flying it as soon as it can, depending on when the aircraft is certified. As for unit 1017, current estimates are for an entry into service in the second or third quarter of 2021.
Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), which is partnering with Precision Aircraft Solutions in the 321 Precision Conversions joint venture, had said in August that the A321PCF would begin the certification process in the fourth quarter of 2020.
While Cargo Facts Symposium 2020 will be presented as a virtual event, the unparalleled networking and continuing education opportunities remain, with the best and brightest minds addressing the most pressing industry issues for air cargo — including those around COVID-19. To register and for more information, visit www.cargofactssymposium.com.