ST Engineering To Spread A321P2F Capabilities To China, U.S.
SINGAPORE—The aerospace arm of ST Engineering is ramping up its Airbus A321 passenger-to-freighter (P2F) capabilities at its Guangzhou, China and San Antonio, Texas facilities as the MRO reacts to the demand for air cargo capacity resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking exclusively to Aviation Daily, ST Engineering aerospace sector VP and president designate Jeffrey Lam said the market was “bracing for impact” ahead of a likely wave of early aircraft retirements as airlines rightsize their fleets.
Amid the downturn, Lam said owners are looking for ways to extend and retain the value of their aircraft. Filling the void in air freight capacity left by the mass grounding of passenger aircraft and with it their belly capacity is one way to do that.
The ST Engineering facility at Seletar Airport (XSP) in Singapore will have two lines to convert around six to eight aircraft annually. Meanwhile ST Aerospace Aviation Services in Guangzhou is in the process of training its engineers and attaining capabilities for two lines by 2021. U.S. subsidiary VT San Antonio Aerospace will follow in 2022.
Program partner Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) in Germany—a joint venture between ST Aerospace and Airbus—is currently converting the Airbus A330 family. Lam expects the orderbooks will increase with the falling feedstock price of the A330 aircraft. Four A330 P2F have been delivered to DHL and the German logistics provider has four more on order.
Lam added that as the engineering and preparation work for A321P2F is complete, ST Engineering will hence be able to ramp up its efficiency and reduce conversion times for future P2F programs across its four locations around the globe. Currently all nine slots for 2021 are full, including some for the smaller A320.
Lam said, however, it is still too early to predict where and when these feedstock aircraft might come in as airlines are currently in a “holding pattern,” evaluating their fleet strategy for both the short and long term. He said that although there are plenty of Boeing 737s available, ST Engineering is committed to the A320 P2F program as the Airbus type can carry more freight because of the design of its belly cargo doors.
ST Engineering is currently working on the second and third A321P2F, both belonging to lessor BBAM. The 20-year old ex-Thomas Cook A321s will eventually be leased to Titan Airways.