Conversion program for A330s in the works

Airbus is poised to launch a conversion program for A330 freighters, although it is not clear yet if the new offerings will include both the -200 and -300 variants of the aircraft.

It was widely believed that the new conversion program would be launched at June’s Paris Air Show. But sources have suggested that Airbus may have wished to delay the announcement over concerns that sales of the new A330-200F would be impacted.

Wolfgang Schmid, vice president, freighter conversions, at EADS EFW, Airbus’s own conversion facility in Dresden, Germany, is convinced the A330F conversion program will have a strong future when the first orders are accepted.

“We know that the market is very keen on this extra-ordinary, next-generation freighter conversion program, with pre-studies looking very positive,” he said.

According to Schmid, there is an immediate feedstock of about 800 A330 passenger  aircraft in operation, with a backlog of more than 300 aircraft on order. “This means that we expect that a strong demand will be covered by a strong feedstock base for many years,” he said. “Although the decision regarding timing and choice of variants is not completely finished.”

Some carriers have been pressing hard for the early startup of the A330F conversion program. A spokesman from Qatar Airways has stated that they want to convert up to 15 of their A330 fleet into freighters as soon as possible. That might have been spurred by Qatar’s recent investment in European all-cargo carrier Cargolux, but it is also thought that the Gulf carrier may look to lease some of its conversions. Schmid says he is also expecting strong demand from the integrators for the A330 freighter conversion.

In the meantime, the EADS EFW plant at Dresden is busy with an extended order book for A300F conversion work. The first of two A300-600R converted freighters has recently been delivered to RUS Aviation, which is based at Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. At the same time, three A300-600 freighters for Maximus Air Cargo, which is based at neighboring Abu Dhabi in the UAE, are also being completed. Earlier this year, DHL Express placed an order for the conversion of 13 A300-600 aircraft, making it the largest single conversion order ever received by EADS EFW. The conversions on the integrator’s first five freighters are already underway.

Future conversion prospects for EADS EFW include the A340, although some argue that its extended fuselage length will make it an unsuitable conversion candidate. For Schmid, it is a more distant thought right now. “At this stage, we have decided to concentrate on the A330P2F program, but given a reasonably strong demand, we could consider including the A340-300 long-range passenger aircraft into our conversion family.”

EADS EFW has carried out more than 170 freighter conversions of Airbus aircraft on behalf of nearly 40 customers. According to its own studies, more than 3,000 freighters will be needed to accommodate growth in the air cargo market; three-quarters of that demand will have to be met by the conversion of mid-life passenger aircraft.

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