Rosy outlook beckons for freighter conversions

Freighter conversion suppliers expect a strong e-commerce market to support the switching of passenger jets to cargo use, although capacity and manpower could present challenges.

Mike Doellefeld, vice president of commercial freighter conversions at Boeing, is upbeat about prospects for the 737-800BCF, noting that the company has redelivered about 100 conversions, and has orders for 250 more.

The company’s 767 conversion business has also been robust, with about 60 redeliveries.

“When we look at our market the singular word I would use is ‘strong’,” he said. “Our current market is doing very well.

“The last few years have provided a surge particularly in the cargo and freight market, that’s due in part to the strong demand for e-commerce and the emergent express cargo market.”

Doellefeld made the remarks at the MRO Asia-Pacific exhibition in Singapore.

He was on a panel with Tan Boon Keng, a vice president at ST Engineering’s commercial aerospace unit, and Leonardo Amorim, who works in aftermarket sales at Embraer Services and Support.

Tan, whose company has long specialised in freighter conversions, says that slots for its A320P2Fs are fully booked.

He added that the coronavirus pandemic provided a strong boost owing to the rise in e-commerce, and also freed up feedstock aircraft for conversions.

“Over the next few years, conversions will be ongoing… the question is whether we have enough capacity to speed up the process,” said Tan.

As for Embraer’s Amorim, he noted that the company’s new E190/E195 freighter conversion programme has a niche A320 and 737 conversions at the high end, and turboprop conversions at the low end.

Embraer is working on the forecast that Ecommerce will enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 10% over the next five years.

“There is clearly a niche between the aircraft with shorter range and smaller volume, and the beginning of the market for narrowbodies,” he said.

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