On Monday, Israel Aerospace Industries received an STC for its 737-700 passenger-to-freighter conversion program, and could redeliver the first freighter-converted 737-700F (30794) to Seattle-based Alaska Air Cargo before the end of this week. Once redelivered, IAI, through its MRO and conversion arm, Bedek Aviation Group, will have redelivered not only the first 737-700F, but also the very first of the new generation of narrowbody freighters — 737NGs and A320Family.
IAI/Bedek formally launched the 737-700 passenger-to-freighter conversion program in May 2015, shortly after Aeronautical Engineers, Inc became the first conversion house to launch a next-generation conversion program with its 737-800 P-to-F. Since then, there has been no shortage of new program announcements: Boeing and Bedek both launched 737-800 conversion programs, while ATSG-subsidiary PEMCO unveiled a 737-700 passenger-to-freighter and “FlexCombi” program. Meanwhile, EFW launched “P2F” programs for both the A320 and A321, and, last month, Precision Aircraft Solutions and ATSG formed a joint venture, 321 Precision Conversions, and launched an A321 P-to-F program.
But it is IAI/Bedek that has reached certification first.
Bedek’s 737-700BDSF offers eight full-size pallet positions plus two smaller positions, with a maximum payload of about 18 tonnes (40,000lbs). Alaska Air Cargo is the launch customer for the program with a firm order for three conversions, and an option for one more. Feedstock for the first three conversions came from Alaska Airlines’ passenger unit.
Historically, Alaska Air Cargo operated a fleet of five 737-400 combis and a single 737-400F, but is planning to park the combis in favor of an all-freighter cargo fleet. Alaska has already retired one of the combis, and will gradually retire the other four. As for the future, the second 737-700 (30793) is already in conversion, and on 25 August, the third aircraft (30792) departed Seattle for Tel Aviv, where it has also been inducted for conversion. Alaska Air is hopeful that its second 737-700F will be redelivered before the end of 2017, with the third to follow no later than the end of the first quarter, 2018.
The West Coast’s largest combination carrier has said that the transition to an all-freighter cargo fleet “will allow Alaska Air Cargo to serve the State of Alaska better” because of the expanded operational capabilities of the -700s, compared with the 737-400 combis. The -700s are more fuel efficient and can fly more than 1,000 nautical miles beyond the range of the -400s, giving the airline potential to fly into new markets. Shortly after redelivery, Alaska pilots will conduct flight tests, with the first commercial flight expected by mid-September.