EFW, the conversion and MRO arm of the Airbus Group, signed an agreement with Egyptair to convert two of the carrier’s A330-200 passenger aircraft to freighter configuration.
The deal ends almost three years of speculation about a launch customer for the program, which was first announced in February 2012. Much of that speculation centered around Qatar Airways, because Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker had loudly and persistently demanded that Airbus launch an A330 conversion program (Qatar has twenty-nine A330 pax aircraft in its fleet). And, of course, the big express operators were thought to be prime launch candidates for the -300 P-to-F, as that variant is more suited to express operation than the -200. But other than the usual comments about ongoing negotiations with potential customers, EFW and its owners (Airbus and ST Aerospace) have been silent on the subject of orders.
Today’s announcement of Egyptair’s launch order for two A330-200 P-to-F conversions is both surprising and, at the same time, quite logical.
- Why surprising? When launch orders are speculated about, whether for passenger or cargo aircraft, the focus is usually on the big-name, big-budget European, Asian, and Gulf Region carriers such as All Nippon Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, and Qatar Airways, rather than smaller, less-well-known airlines like Egyptair. In fact, Egyptair’s cargo business is not really on the aviation media’s radar at all.
- Why logical? Because, for the P-to-F conversion of the A330-200, Egyptair is a perfect candidate. Cargo is a bigger part of Egyptair’s business than most people realize and its current freighter fleet is aging. But while new production A330 or 777 freighters are likely out of its price range, it can source feedstock for A330-200 conversions from its own passenger fleet.
However, as logical as Egyptair may be as a customer for freighter-converted A330-200Fs, there is one part of the announcement that is more interesting than it might seem at first glance, and that concerns dates. EFW has confirmed to Cargo Facts that the A330-300 will enter production in November 2015, and enter service in 2017; while the -200 variant (which is what Egyptair has ordered) will be one full year behind – not entering production until November 2016, and not entering service until 2018. Which leads us to believe that a major A330-300 P-to-F launch order is imminent.