Today we continue our analysis of the worldwide fleet of narrowbody jet freighters with a look at the passenger-to-freighter conversion market. You can read yesterday’s analysis of the overall composition of the fleet here, and tomorrow, in Part III, we will break down the fleet on a type-by-type basis, with a focus on express vs. general cargo, and then by regional distribution.
While Boeing has long offered a convertible version of its 737-700, no new-build narrowbody jets are currently available as full freighters. However, as can be seen in the chart at right, there are now seventeen active passenger-to-freighter conversion programs for eight aircraft types: the 757-200, 737-800, 737-700, 737-400, 737-300, A321, A320, and MD-80. This is a significant change from the time not so long ago when the choice was limited to the 757-200 and the two 737 Classics. These three programs will continue for at least some time, but acceptable feedstock is limited, and the future belongs to the 737 NGs and A320s/321s – the first three of which, all 737-700BDSFs – were redelivered by Bedek Aviation Group to Alaska Airlines in late 2017 and early 2018.
Missing from the list are PACAVI, a German-American company that launched P-to-F programs for the A320 and A321 in 2014, and C3 Aerospace (C-cubed), a US-based company that announced A320 and A321 programs in 2017. PACAVI acquired an A320 and began conversion work on it at the HAITEC facility in Germany, and, at the beginning 2016, announced firm orders for six A320 conversions from Airline Management AS, and for two A321 conversions from Colt Cargo. But, shortly after that announcement, the company ran into financial problems and folded. For its part, while C3 has indicated that a launch-customer announcement is imminent, it has provided little information about its programs, so for now we leave it out of the chart. Cargo Facts believes that additional players (not listed on the chart) are also evaluating the launch of narrowbody conversion programs, but none have reached the stage of formally unveiling their plans.
Looking ahead, we will see the first 737-800Fs flying by the end of this month, as Boeing redelivers to launch customer GECAS (for end-user West Atlantic), followed by the first -800 redeliveries by Aeronautical Engineers and Bedek Aviation Group. And 2019 will see the first A321 freighters take to the skies, from EFW and 321 Precision conversions.
Once all the new programs are certified, the trickle of redeliveries will quickly turn into a flood. We count more than 125 firm orders for the new types, and once the conversion houses iron out whatever kinks they discover in the first one or two conversions, the pace of redeliveries will pick up sharply.
The current and future composition of the narrowbody freighter fleet will be a major subject of interest at Cargo Facts Asia in Shanghai, 23 – 25 April. In addition to a session devoted specifically to narrowbodies, we will also have a presentation based on our most recent Twenty-Year Freighter Forecast.