More Narrowbodies Line Up For Cargo Conversion

ATSG has bought two Airbus A321-200 that it plans to convert.
Credit: ATSG / Business Wire

Despite the revival in passenger traffic, interest in narrowbody passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversions remains strong as new commitments to the procedure by several lessors and cargo specialists attest. 

On June 30, Texas-based mid-life aircraft specialist Aero Capital Solutions (ACS) announced plans to add seven Boeing 737-800s to the 14 aircraft that it is already converting. This will take its freighter portfolio to 21 aircraft.

“The conversions will be carried out in conjunction with a supplemental type certificate (STC) provided by Aeronautical Engineers (AEI),” ACS said.

Miami-based Commercial Jet will perform this latest batch of seven 737-800SF conversions, starting in January 2022. The final aircraft is expected to be completed by November 2022.

“The aircraft freighter market has strong potential that will long outlast the immediate demand effects of the COVID pandemic,” ACS CEO and founder Jason Barany said.

Meanwhile, on June 29, Ohio-based Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) said its Cargo Aircraft Management (CAM) leasing business had committed to purchase its first two Airbus A321-200 passenger aircraft, one this year and a second in the first quarter of 2022.

Both aircraft will undergo P2F conversion at ATSG’s PEMCO Conversions facilities in Tampa, which had its A321-200PCF conversion approved by the FAA in April following a four-year design process. The P2F design rights are owned by 321 Precision Conversions, a JV between ATSG and Precision Aircraft Solutions.

Conversion work on the first aircraft will begin in 2021 fourth quarter (Q4) for redelivery to a dry lease customer in the second quarter (Q2) of 2022. The second aircraft will enter conversion in Q2 2022, with redelivery projected for Q4 2022.

“We have accelerated our plans to invest in and offer this midsize, mid-range freighter type because our express-network customers have expressed strong interest in adding it to their fleets,” ATSG Chief Commercial Officer Mike Berger said.

ATSG has a fleet of more than 85 Boeing 767 converted freighters.

Maltese ACMI, charter and cargo operator carrier SmartLynx has also started to receive its pipeline of A321Fs, having recently taken delivery of its first conversion (MSN 891) from Franco-Luxembourgish lessor Vallair. The Smartwings aircraft was Vallair’s second A321 conversion.

“Our third A321F is now scheduled for delivery in [third quarter] 2021 and it is part of an extensive program of A321 passenger-to-freighter conversions which will be carried out over the coming months and years,” Vallair director of trading and leasing Patrick Leopold said.

The newly delivered Smartwings A321F will operate from Leipzig for Deutsche Post DHL Group, with another to follow (MSN 1017).

“The increasing demand for e-commerce shipments, along with the continuous need for the transportation of both protective equipment and medical supplies, has vastly dictated the pace of growth right across the air cargo industry,” SmartLynx Malta CEO Zygimantas Surintas said.

Smartwings plans to convert a further four A321s—MSN 2342, 2912, 2903 and 3191—under a partnership with conversions specialist Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) and lessor GTLK Europe, with the aim of becoming one of the largest narrowbody cargo carriers.

In October 2020, SmartLynx Malta detailed plans to reach 10 Airbus cargo conversions by 2023. SmartLynx Malta is working with both 321 Precision Conversions and EFW.

“Both are high-quality products, and despite minor differences in direct operational costs, the company decided to go with both STC’s to be able to offer its customer flexibility to compare and choose according to their requirements,” SmartLynx Malta said in October 2020.

Beyond the narrowbodies, SmartLynx is taking five A330s, which will initially be deployed in a zero-LOPA (layout of passenger accommodations) temporary freight configuration with no seats as part of its expansion into the long-haul market.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.