Who’s who in freighter conversions: Part III

Over the last two days we have examined the passenger-to-freighter conversion market, first with a look at the evolution of that market over the last two decades, and then with some thoughts on how rapidly demand for the currently popular types would fade now that the first of the new types has entered service. You can read Part I here, and Part II here.

To round out Part II, we looked at one company — Air Transport Services Group — that had recently entered the conversion business in a big way, plus a successful conversion program from IPR Conversions for the ATR family of turboprops. Today we continue our summary of who’s who in this business with a look at the conversion houses that offer passenger-to-freighter conversion programs for jet aircraft.

The seven major conversion houses are (alphabetically): Aeronautical Engineers, Inc, Bedek Aviation Group, Boeing, EFW, PEMCO World Air Services, Precision Aircraft Solutions, and Singapore Technologies Aerospace. We will start with the first four today, and conclude this analysis with the last three tomorrow. (You can read Part IV here)

One of three 737-300s that Aeronautical Engineers Inc has converted to freighter configuration for Bulgaria-based Cargo Air. AEI has also redelivered five 737-400Fs to Cargo Air, which flies mostly in support of DHL Express in Europe.

Aeronautical Engineers, Inc

AEI was formed in 1958 in Miami, and offered maintenance services for over a decade before doing its first cargo conversion – providing a large cargo door for a DC-6 aircraft in 1970. Since then the company has developed more than 120 STCs and redelivered over 400 freighter-converted aircraft. Types converted so far include (in chronological order) the Douglas DC-6, Lockheed L188, Convair 340/440, Convair 880, Douglas DC-8, Boeing 727-100 and 727-200, Lockheed L1011, Boeing 737-200, 737-300, 737-400, McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Series, and Bombardier CRJ200.

In 2014, AEI became the first conversion house to launch a P-to-F program for the new generation of aircraft when it announced its 737-800 program at the Cargo Facts Asia event in Hong Kong. While the 737-800 program moves toward certification (expected in early 2018), AEI continues to offer P-to-F conversions of 737 Classics, the MD-80 series, and the CRJ200

The state of AEI’s currently active conversion programs:

  • 737-800 Total conversions through the end of 2017: 0. Total in 2017: 0. Estimate for 2018: 4
  • 737-400: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 97 Total in 2017: 21. Estimate for 2018: 18.
  • 737-300: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 17 Total in 2017: 0. Estimate for 2018: 0.
  • MD-80 series: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 12 Total in 2017: 4. Estimate for 2018: 6.
  • CRJ200: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 2. Total in 2017: 3. Estimate for 2018: 10.

 

The first freighter to wear Amazon’s Prime Air livery, a 767-300BDSF, was converted from passenger configuration by Bedek Aviation Group. Like all of the freighters in the Prime Air Network, this one’s registration includes a prime number: N1997A.

Bedek Aviation Group

Bedek Aviation Group is the conversion and MRO arm of Israel Aerospace Industries (which, interestingly, was founded in 1951 as Bedek Aviation Company). Bedek’s passenger-to-freighter programs, under the name Bedek Special Freighter (BDSF), include the 737-300, 737-400, 737-700, 737-800, 767-200, 767-300, and 747-400 (including both passenger- and combi-to-freighter). However, future conversions of 737 Classics, 767-200s, and 747-400s are unlikely, and we will focus on the 737NGs and 767-300s as Bedek’s currently active programs.

We also note that Bedek is working on a 777 P-to-F program, but the company has not announced a formal program launch and we will not speculate about it here. Likewise, Bedek declined to provide information about its conversion order backlog or the number of redeliveries to date or expected. The information provided below is our best estimate.

The state of Bedek’s currently active conversion programs:

  • 767-300: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 44. Total in 2017: 15. Estimate for 2018: 15.
  • 737-700: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 2. Total in 2017: 2. Estimate for 2018: 1.
  • 737-800: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 0. Total in 2017: 0. Estimate for 2018: 3.

 

GECAS is one of the launch customers for Boeing’s 737-800BCF passenger-to-freighter conversion progam.

Boeing

We will not provide the full history of The Boeing Company here, other than to point out that it has been designing and building airplanes for over 100 years. Most of the freighter aircraft in service today were either built as production freighters by Boeing, or are Boeing passenger aircraft that have been converted to freighter configuration. Most of these conversions were carried out by third parties, but for most of the current century Boeing has been an active player in the conversion market itself. What is now the ST Aerospace 757 conversion program was developed in close cooperation with Boeing, and since then Boeing has developed its own “Boeing Converted Freighter” (BCF) programs for the 747-400, 767-300, and now the 737-800.

The 747-400BCF program ended in 2013, following redelivery of the fiftieth conversion, but the 767-300BCF and 737-800BCF programs are active. Boeing declined to provide information about the order backlog for either of these programs, or about the number of redeliveries to date or planned for 2018, so the information provided below is our best estimate.

One thing Boeing did say was that it was considering a P-to-F program for the 777, but until the company announces a formal program launch, we will not make any guesses about when, or even if, Boeing freighter converted 777s will enter the worldwide freighter fleet.

The state of Boeing’s currently active conversion programs:

  • 767-300: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 24. Total in 2017: 2. Estimate for 2018: 8.
  • 737-800: Total conversions through the end of 2017: 0. Total in 2017: 0. Estimate for 2018: 4.

 

On 1 December, EFW redelivered the first-ever freighter-converted A330-300P2F (shown here on its first test flight) to launch customer DHL Express.
If rumors we have heard are true, DHL’s need for this freighter’s capacity was so strong that it was put into service right away – with no stopover in the paint shop to add the DHL livery.

EFW

An East German company that began life in 1955 as an aircraft manufacturer soon switched to maintenance when its products did not sell. It continued in this endeavor, with East German state-owned airline Interflug and various Warsaw Pact air forces as its customers, until German reunification in 1990. Following reunification, the company reached an agreement with Deutsche Airbus GmbH to form Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH (EFW), with its headquarters and maintenance facility in Dresden. In 1996, an Airbus A310-200 passenger aircraft was rolled into EFW’s hangar, and, four months later, it rolled out again, having been converted to freighter configuration.

Since then, almost 200 more A310-200s/-300s, A300B4s, and A300-600s have followed, arriving in passenger configuration and leaving as freighters.

And the company, too, has been transformed. First in 2000, when several European aerospace companies combined to form the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), which became the sole owner of EFW. Next in 2012, when ST Aerospace purchased a 35% share from EADS and the two companies announced their agreement to develop a passenger-to-freighter conversion program for the Airbus A330-200 and -300. Then again in 2015, when ST Aero, Airbus (the new name for EADS) and EFW jointly launched P-to-F programs for the A320 and A321. And finally in 2016 when ST Aero acquired majority ownership of EFW with the purchase of another 20% stake from Airbus.

The state of EFW’s currently active conversion programs:

  • A300-600 P-to-F: Total conversions through end of 2017: 75 (Add in the A300B4 and A310 conversions, and the total rises to 192). Total in 2017: 1.  Estimate for 2018: 2.
  • A330-300: Total conversions through end of 2017: 2. Total in 2017: 2. Estimate for 2018: 3.
  • A330-200: Total conversions to date: 0. Total in 2017: 0. Estimate for 2018: 2.
  • A321: Total conversions to date: 0. Total in 2017: 0. Estimate for 2018: 0 (prototype slot-in 09/2018).
  • A320: Total conversions to date: 0. Total in 2017: 0. Estimate for 2018: 0.

EFW currently has a backlog of six firm orders for A330-300 P-to-F conversions, and three firm orders for A330-200 P-to-F conversions. The company declined to comment on firm orders for its A320 and A321 conversions, but Cargo Facts believes it does have a launch customer for the A321 P-to-F, with the prototype aircraft set to enter conversion in September 2018.

If you are interested in an in-depth discussion of this subject, be sure to join us at Cargo Facts Asia 2018, 23 – 25 April, in Shanghai, where we will devote two sessions to the future of the freighter fleet. Widebodies, narrowbodies, production freighters, conversions… Senior executives from the major conversion houses, as well as operators and lessors, will share their views. For more information, or to register, go to CargoFactsAsia.com.

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