Freighter conversions all the rage as Boeing wins small aircraft orders

US aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co failed to win any orders for commercial aircraft in January for the first time in over half a century

19 February 2020 - 19:00

US aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co failed to win any orders for commercial aircraft in January for the first time in over half a century. However, aircraft leasing company BBAM did sign a contract to convert three of its Boeing 737-800 passenger aircraft into freighters.

San Francisco-based BBAM manages US$27 billion in assets and has 200 airline customers worldwide. It is extending the life of the B737-800s to capture a new opportunity in the growing e-commerce and express markets, New York's FreightWaves reported.

The B737-800 converted freighter has a payload of 52,800 pounds. Since entering into service in 2018, it has won 130 orders and commitments, according to Boeing.

The aircraft manufacturer previously unveiled plans to add a 737-800 Boeing converted freighter production line at Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Company this summer.

GAMECO is a joint venture between China Southern Airlines Co and Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa (China), which specialises in aircraft and airborne component maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Boeing's commercial market outlook envisions interest in 1,220 standard-body passenger-to-freighter conversions over the coming two decades. Airbus says there will be a need for 1,000 small freighter conversions over the same period.

Boeing's lack of orders is mostly due to the ongoing grounding of the 737 MAX following two deadly crashes investigators blamed on the automated flight control system and inadequate pilot training in how to respond to the system override during takeoff.

Customers are waiting for global aviation authorities to certify the MAX for commercial flight after Boeing completes software and other corrections. Boeing delivered 10 planes to commercial customers last month.

The aerospace giant is losing billions of dollars in potential revenue and compensation expenses because of the grounding. It is also losing ground to European rival Airbus, which booked 274 net orders in January.

In related news, Singapore Technologies Engineering and joint venture partner Elbe Flugzeugwerek (EFW), based in Dresden, Germany, has successfully completed the first test flight of their prototype Airbus A321 converted freighter (CF) that was converted at ST Engineering's facility in Singapore.

The plane, with a payload of 27.9 tons and a range of 2,300 nautical miles, is aimed at the express domestic and regional markets.

Vallair, an aircraft leasing and services company based in Luxembourg, is the launch customer for the A321 passenger-to-freighter conversion. Australia's Qantas last year signed a letter of intent to lease the first A321CF. It will be operated by Qantas Freight on behalf of Australia Post, adding 50 per cent more capacity (or nine tons) than its existing fleet. Vallair expects to deliver the plane this year.

The next milestone is obtaining the supplemental type certificate from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which is expected by the end of the first quarter, according to ST Engineering.

Under the A321CF programme, ST Engineering is responsible for engineering development, including obtaining the supplemental type certificates from EASA and the US Federal Aviation Administration. Airbus contributes with data and certification support, onboard computer development, airframe engineering and flight-physics and flight-testing expertise, while EFW will hold the certificate and handle marketing and sales.


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