The narrowbody passenger-to-freighter conversion market has been hot for the last several years, and conversion houses are constantly upgrading their existing programs and introducing new ones to match the growing demand. But let’s be honest: there really aren’t that many active conversion programs, and they’re all based on the pretty simple idea of
- cutting a hole in the side of the plane and installing a large cargo door, and
- installing a cargo loading system.
Each of the conversion houses will be happy to tell you that their product has more pallet positions, or a better door, or a higher payload than their competitors’, but they are all starting with the same narrowbody passenger jets, so how different could they actually be? It’s not as if the customers were looking for a nose door like a 747 freighter, or a rear-loading system as found on an An-124, right?
Sri Lankan carrier FITS Aviation was an early customer for Aeronautical Engineers’ MD-80 P-to-F program, and now operates an AEI-converted MD-82F. But while the MD-82F is a small freighter compared to a 747-400F or an An-124, FITS has a big idea – as shown in a video on their website.
So, is this real? And if so, what is the point?
As it turns out, it’s not real — yet. But there is definitely a point.
AEI confirms that it is possible to load an MD-80 through the rear access, as shown in the video, and that this is indeed something they are considering. Why? Because there is significant demand in the oil and gas industry for air transport of drilling pipes too long to be loaded through a side cargo door, and although only one section at a time can be loaded this way, once the pipe section is inside, a specially-designed pallet will move it to the side and secure it. This allows another section to be loaded. Then another, and another… to a total of six. Which, added up, is a real load.
Welcome to the world of the Md-124!