Airbus is teaming up with Singapore-based MRO provider ST Aerospace (ST Aero) and Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) to give the passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion of its A320/A321 aircraft a second try. Airbus is forecasting a demand for more than 600 narrowbodies to be converted to freighters over the next 20 years. Most of the demand will come from Asia, specifically China, and the U.S.

The first, failed attempt dates from 2011 and was in cooperation with EFW and Russian aerospace firms United Aircraft and Irkut.

Tom Williams, Airbus chief operating officer, said the first program would have created the best P2F aircraft. But he acknowledged: “We had a rather overdesigned solution and costs were too high. And the residual value of the A320 was working against us.”

Airbus had the lead in 2011, but this time ST Aero will have the program and technical lead in the development phase. Airbus will provide OEM data and certification support, and can help with the feedstock, according to Williams, who said that there are “plenty” of A320/A321s available with the right conversion window (between 15 and 20 years of age). EFW will be responsible for the marketing and sales, and lead the industrialization process. Airbus, ST Aero and EFW already collaborate on the A330 freighter conversions.

The new cooperation agreement is accompanied with a restructuring of the shareholding in EFW. Airbus is reducing its 65% majority shareholding in EFW and selling 20% to co-owner ST Aero. Upon conclusion of the transaction, Airbus will hold a 45% stake in the Dresden-based freighter conversion specialist and ST Aero 55%.

Conversions will be done in EFW and ST Aero facilities in Asia, Europe and the U.S., and the first converted A320/321 will be available to customers in 2018.

The A320P2F, with 11 main-deck container positions, will have the capacity to carry 21 metric tons of payload over 2,100 nm (2,417 mi.), while the larger A321 variant with 14 main-deck positions will be able to carry up to 27 metric tons over 1,900 nm (2,187 mi.).

Airbus positions the A320P2F as a competitor to the converted Boeing 737-400/-800 and the A321P2F as a competitor to the 757SF.

“This is the only Airbus-supported A320-family freighter conversion program, and as such will take full benefit of our inherent design knowledge of the aircraft, our engineering know-how, as well as the extensive operational experience from the thousands of Airbus single-aisle aircraft in service today,” Williams noted.

For Serh Ghee Lim, president of ST Aerospace, the “A320P2F and the A321P2F will be excellent workhorses which would offer aircraft operators great value and efficiency.” He expects a conversion will take up to three months to complete.

The A320/A321 P2F program follows the launch of the A330 P2P conversion in 2013. The first A330-200/-300 P2F is due to enter service in 2017.

EgyptAir has signed to be the launch customer for the A330-200 P2F, with two firm orders and two options, said Yip Yuen Cheong, ST Aero executive VP aerospace engineering and manufacturing.

EFW has yet to secure a launch customer for the A330-300 passenger-to-freighter program (P2F). But despite this, the company is actually planning to have the -300 P2F ready before the -200 P2F.

“Last December we froze the design on the A330-300 P2F and are in the process now of doing the kits,” Yip said.

Yip anticipates it will take 12 months to get the A330-300 P2F program certified, but adds that once this is achieved and EFW ramps up production, it should be able to produce one A330 P2F every 120 days.