Boeing expands freighter conversion lines as orders increase


Boeing (NYSE: BA)  has opened two additional lines overseas to convert former passenger planes to freighters as orders for the 737-800 and 767-300 increase.

On Sunday, Boeing announced it had received an order from an unidentified customer to convert two 737-800s to freighters, increasing its total orders and commitments for this cargo airplane to 134. So far, Boeing has delivered 36 737-800 converted freighters to 10 global operators.

The 737-800 has become a staple among express and short-haul cargo haulers, with its 24-ton payload and flight range of 2,000 nautical miles. The planes are well suited for high-frequency milk runs required for express operations.

To meet increased demand for the airplane, Boeing said it will open a second conversion line at Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Co. (GAMECO) early next year. The first production line began operations in June. 

Boeing also has existing 737-800 conversion lines at Boeing Shanghai Aviation Services and Taikoo (Shandong) Aircraft Engineering Company (STAECO).

Other licensed third-party companies that compete with Boeing to convert 737s include Miami-based Aeronautical Engineers Inc., Israel Aircraft Industries and Pemco Conversions. AEI last week received a second order from GA Telesis, a leasing and maintenance services company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for its 737-800 conversion kit. Pemco converts the 737-300 and -400 series aircraft and recently began offering the 737-700 Flex Combi, which carries people and cargo on the main deck in changeable configurations.

Demand for freighters of all types has been especially high since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which destroyed travel demand and passenger operations that had also carried a majority of the world’s cargo. In 2018, Boeing forecast 70% growth in the global freighter fleet over 20 years, with 63% of that growth coming from conversions. Of those converted, 63% were projected to be narrow-body planes such as the 737.

A new Airbus A321 converted freighter that will compete for similar airline and leasing customers is scheduled to hit the market next month. Qantas Airways will operate the first version, moving parcels for Australia Post.

Boeing also said ST Engineering of Singapore will start a second conversion line for the 767-300 freighter later this year. The widebody aircraft has become desirable for long-haul, regional and feeder cargo markets, the airframer said.

According to Boeing, the 767-300 passenger-to-freighter models are just as efficient as its 767-300 production freighters, with a maximum 56.5-ton payload and a flight range of 3,350 nautical miles.

“The freighter conversion program is an excellent way to double the life of an airplane and provide operators with an economical way to replace less efficient freighters,” said Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice president of commercial sales and marketing, in a statement.

FreightWaves Air Cargo Editor Eric Kulisch contributed to this article.

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