Last Friday, we looked at significant developments concerning widebody freighters in 2019. We continue today with narrowbodies, starting with the 737. The grounding of the 737 MAX, which began in March 2019, continued through the end of the year and resulted in Boeing deciding to put production on hold as hundreds of frames sit in storage. Just before Christmas, Dennis Muilenburg was also removed as CEO of Boeing.
The ramifications of the ongoing 737 MAX issues have reverberated across both 737 Classic and 737NG conversions. Costs to acquire and convert 737-800s remain high due to tight feedstock supply, as passenger carriers postpone planned retirements in order to fill in for previously scheduled MAX operations. This has led to interest in 737-300 and 737-400 conversions enjoying something of a revival.
Having said that, the 737-800BCF received a healthy number of orders at the Paris Air Show in June, while Aeronautical Engineers, Inc. (AEI) obtained the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for its 737-800SF earlier in the year, and redelivered the first two (29121 and 32613) to launch operator Ethiopian Airlines.
Meanwhile, Atlas Air’s Southern Air subsidiary began operating 737-800BCFs for Amazon on a CMI basis. The aircraft are being leased from GECAS. By the end of 2019, five 737-800BCFs entered service.
Another issue that affected both 737 Classics and NGs was the discovery by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) of an issue with the rigid barrier on some of its converted 737-300BDSFs, -400BDSFs and -700BDSFs in December. Carriers including Qantas, Alaska Airlines and SpiceJet temporarily grounded their 737 freighters to carry out an interim fix, after which the aircraft quickly returned to service.
Australian carrier Qantas signed an expanded agreement with Australia Post and will become the launch operator of the A321P2F, converted by Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW). The carrier said that the first aircraft will enter service in October 2020.
EFW had originally expected to receive the STC for its A321-200 conversion in the fourth quarter of 2019 but said during Cargo Facts Symposium that tight engine supply would postpone the STC to 2020.
The A321 isn’t the only member of its family to be involved in a conversion program. What is expected to be the first A320 freighter was also inducted for conversion in September by California-based C Cubed Aerospace.
Noteworthy developments in 2019 included the arrival of Asia Pacific Airlines’ third 757-200PCF (25140, ex-OpenSkies), the redelivery of a 757-200PCF (25294, ex-American Airlines) to new freighter operator Olympus Airways in Greece, as well as SF Airlines’ 757 fleet surpassing 30 aircraft with the addition of its eighth freighter in December.