Rethinking the passenger-to-freighter conversion concept

Main-deck cargo door? Who needs a main-deck cargo door? Cargo Facts was exposed to some out-of-the-box thinking last week when we met with industry veteran Cliff Duke. He described the patented idea for a low-cost freighter (LCF) conversion program being developed by the team at LCF Conversions and Seattle-based design and certification company ACE Corp.

The LCF concept loads cargo on conventional pallets and containers (including 96 x 125 inch ULDs) through the existing lower deck cargo doors of widebody aircraft. The cargo is then moved to/from the main deck by two “Main Deck LCF Platform Lifts,” one serving the forward hold and the other the aft hold. These lifts become an integral, load-bearing part of the main deck floor during flight.

LCF Conversions says the only limitation to this approach is that pallets/containers are restricted to a height of 64 inches. However, given the increasing importance of belly freight  in widebody passenger aircraft such as the 777 and A330/340, this may be less of a problem than it once would have been — we note that today some 60% of air freight is transported in the bellies of passenger and freighter aircraft, and subjected to this limitation.

On the other hand, there are some potential advantages of the LCF approach over the conventional P-to-F process. Because it does not have a main-deck cargo door, the LCF avoids the need to make any changes to the external structure of the aircraft, nor will it need any changes to the main deck floor (other than those needed to accommodate the fore and aft lifts). Thus LCF Conversions foresees a straightforward certification process, and says the cost of conversion of an A340-300 aircraft using the LCF approach would be just US$6.5 million, including the cargo loading system.

Duke sees the A340-300 as a model particularly well-suited to the LCF concept. A340-300s are out of favor as passenger aircraft, providing ample feedstock at very attractive prices. The A340-300LCF would have about the same total cargo volume as a 767-300ERF, but the A340-300LCF would have significantly better payload range capability: 66.7 tonnes at 5,400 nm for the A340-300LCF versus 57.3 tonnes at 3,250 nm for the 767-300ERF. The LCF concept could be applied to other A340 models, as well as to various versions of the 777 when feedstock prices reach attractive levels. LCF Conversions is some 12 months from certification once a launch customer has been secured.

So is the LCF concept a game-changing idea? It is too early to say, but it certainly offers some intriguing food for thought. Those interested in exploring the LCF concept in depth should join us at Cargo Facts Asia, where LCF Conversions will have several delegates in attendance, and where the concept will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion.

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3 thoughts on “Rethinking the passenger-to-freighter conversion concept

  1. Indeed out-of-the box thinking and interesting. Won’t work, though. Belly cargo works because of the yield mix between passenger and cargo, or in other words, because for most operators cargo is just a byproduct. However, when operating dedicated freighters, cargo must pay the entire bill, and I am unable to see the advantage of a 10 ton payload increase versus the clear downside – no main deck dims, no BIG’s, no OHG’s and a certainly significantly increased turnaround time (since with the lowcost model the MD will not feature motorized transport systems but roller floors, expect loading and unloading to be time- and manpower – consuming).
    Cargo customers are increasinly looking for transport solutions, and MD Cargo (including cars, machinery, horse stable etc) is an important part of the game. For the figures one needs to make this lowcost freighter work out you could also operate a 747 combi which would give a much better yield mix.

  2. It’s nice to see some refreshing ideas in such conservative industry. You should be praised Cliff! I think that there is a room for such a freighter.

    As with any new concept, there are some definite pros and cons to consider. Among the pros, I can point out the fact that the structure modification is “much less traumatic” than the modification required in a conventional conversion with main deck side cargo door and plug. The LCF conversion price is very attractive and I assume it will take less time to convert. Interlining with belly ULDs in widebody passenger aircraft may have advantages to some airlines (those that do not require the extra volume). As for cons, many operators, especially the integrators, require maximum volume due to the low density of their cargo. Therefore, the LCF does not fit them. Another con is the dependency on the lift reliability – the ULDs lifts are critical to the operation in this concept.

    In the current operation, there is a narrow niche for a dedicated freighter, carrying 60-70 tonnes to 5,000 nm (A340-300). Most operators on this range prefer larger freighters that can carry higher payloads. For the medium widebody freighter, there is a wider niche that does not require the A340-300 long range. The A340-300 high OEW, with the extra two engines, does not have any advantages over freighters such as A330-300 or B767-300ER. Therefore, considering the conversion cost involved, I don’t think that conventional P2F A340-300 will be attractive to the market.

    However, I agree with Cliff that the A340-300 can be a model particularly well-suited to the LCF concept. Considering the attractive cost of the aircraft and the conversion of   the A340-300 LCF it will be demanded by some operators.

  3. Intersting idea for the A340.

    I am challenging the forum with an other one- new dedicated freighter (“NDF”) to ~5000NM, 60-70t, carrying ~15 M1/A1 containers.

    The NDF should be designed to new technology structure, low fuel consumption engines, UAV – NAV

    The utilization life should be ~40y and the cost ~70-80MUS$

    The main airfreight logistic centers (which will not move) have been located to accomodate the DC8/ 707 and those are located at ~4000NM from each other.

    The 60-70t , high volumetric NDF will allow a higher and more flexible utilization, with potential to generate higher revenues than the larger freighters.

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