Industry converts

Freighter conversion programmes are an increasingly popular choice for operators, says Jonathon Lesieur, freighter marketing manager, Airbus.
COMMENT, Business Trends


Question: What are the potential benefits of freighter conversion programmes and what role will they play in the future of the air cargo industry?

Expert: Jonathon Lesieur
Freighter marketing manager, Airbus

Programme itinerary

The freighter conversion process itself takes roughly four months and primarily revolves around removing the passenger features and adding the cargo features. In particular, this includes the implementation of the main cargo deck door, reinforcing flooring and adding the cargo loading system.

In terms of cargo layout, the converted freighters are identical to purpose built versions and are capable of fitting standard 96" containers. Its also common to take advantage of the fact that the aircraft is grounded, so general maintenance often occurs during the freighter conversion period.

Conversion history

We first began converting the passenger A300-600s and A310-300s in 2001. Since then Airbus has converted 38 A300-600s and 26 A310-600s, figures that reflect the success of the freighter conversion programme.

The A310-300 programme is operated by EFW, a subsidiary of EADS, which is located in Dresden, Germany. The other programme for the A300-600 is operated by another Airbus subsidiary, SSI, in China. Customers send their aircrafts to these destinations and following conversion, they are then returned.

Second life

Converting a passenger aircraft into a freighter gives the model a new lease of life. Given the evolving market requirements of the passenger sector, the freighter conversion programme can offer a fresh purpose for older generation aircrafts. The A300s and A310s have a working life of 30 years, so the programme allows airlines to consider operating the aircraft for 15 or so years as a passenger carrier before getting another 15 years use as a freighter. It is not so much that these models have become outdated in the passenger sector, more that requirements in seating sizes has changed.

The air cargo sector is not so greatly governed by market conditions or where the market is going to be. For airfreight the important thing is space, which is what makes these models for their class so effective. Both possess a wide fuselage for their class, making them an ideal fit to utilise cargo space.

Avoiding the competition

Converting passenger aircrafts into freighters does not cause direct competition to the purpose built freighter market for a number of varying reasons. Firstly the size of the models is incomparable, with purpose built aircrafts being constructed on a completely different scale to its passenger counterpart.

The A330-220 freighter for example has a capacity of 64 to 69 tonnes, while with A300 and A310 can carry about 40 to 50 tonnes. Similarly the range of each aircraft is vastly different. The A330-200F offers approximately 4000 nautical miles, while the A300s are designed more for regional operations.

Converting customers

Converted freighters are popular with both express operators and general cargo operators. A number of leading global express operators use Airbus converted freighters such as the A310 and A300. This includes FedEX, UPS, TNT and DHL. In the regional sectors, the programme has proved particularly popular with Middle Eastern carriers.

Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Royal Jordanian are all customers of the Airbus freighter conversion programme. For example, Emirates operates three converted A310s. In Asia, customers include China Eastern, China Southern, Air Hong Kong and more recently Air India. Air India has committed to converting part of its A310-300 fleet, evidence of the growing demand in India. Another Indian company, Flyington Freighters has already ordered 12 A330s for conversion and will implement converted A300s as interim until they are delivered. It will become the first airline to use the converted A330-200s.

Phasing in the future

The cargo market has strong growth figures. We have identified its average annual growth is roughly one point stronger than the passenger market showing a huge need from manufacturers for both new build freighters and converted passenger aircrafts. Based on supply and demand of Airbus passenger models we are able to work out which models to phase into the conversion programme next.

On the passenger front, we are currently selling a large amount of A220s, so the availability and market values of this model in terms of freighter conversion means we will begin offering a conversion programme in 2010/2011.

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