While passenger-to-freighter conversions of 737 Classic aircraft are currently taking place almost faster than we can report them, it is no secret that all the players in the narrowbody conversion market are looking ahead and asking “What next?”
It is also no secret that the answer is “737NG and A320 Family conversions.”
It has generally been assumed that the launch of conversion programs for these aircraft was still many years in the future, but given what was said at the Cargo Facts Aircraft Symposium in Seattle last week, that timeline appears to be in need of significant revision. In presentations at the Symposium, senior executives from both Ethiopian Airlines and Alaska Airlines said they had concrete plans to have freighter-converted Next-Generation 737 freighters in their respective fleets sooner, rather than later.
- Asrat Begashaw, Managing Director of Ethiopian Cargo, said the carrier would have three 737-800Fs in the fleet by 2018. (He also added that Ethiopian would be operating eleven 777Fs and three 767-300Fs by that time.)
- Torque Zubeck, Managing Director Financial Planning & Analysis at Alaska Airlines, said the carrier planned to replace its five 737-400 Combis and single 737-400F with 737NG Freighters. He did not provide a definitive timeline for the acquisition of the freighters, but did say Alaska wanted to end 737-400 passenger operations by 2017.
New conversion programs take years to develop, so if Ethiopian Airlines is going to have three 737-800Fs in operation by 2018, someone is going to have to launch a 737-800 passenger-to-freighter conversion program no later than next year. Whether that program is directly from Boeing, or from one (or more) of the independent conversion houses, remains to be seen, but the race is now officially on.