IAI’s Aviation Group (formerly Bedek) has been converting Boeing 767 passenger aircraft into cargo aircraft since 2004. Initially, the B767-200 were converted, and from 2009 the stretched B767-300 version were more commonly used for conversions.
“We thought the market for the conversion of the 767-200 had ended, but to our surprise, in 2019, we started receiving new orders. Today, IAI is the only certified provider of passenger to cargo conversion of the 767-200, and interest in these conversions continues,” said Noam Sharoni, director of 767 conversions at IAI Aviation Group.
The demand for the B767 mid size aircraft is high due to the continued growing demand for air cargo. The B767 offers cargo operators the advantage of more efficient operations between hubs.
“IAI has converted 62 B767-200 and 80 B767-300 aircraft, and we are ready to maximise our capability to convert as many additional B767 as we can, by operating a flexible workflow of “unlimited conversion slots” and take on new orders,” Sharoni added. Under this strategy, IAI is diversifying its operations with several conversion lines parallel located at different sites, as close as possible to the customer.
“Currently, we have eight parallel conversion lines for the 767-300/200, in Israel and Mexico. Decisions to open new conversion locations or expand existing lines are continuously examined based on demand and orders,” according to Sharoni, over recent months, IAI has submitted proposals for new conversions of dozens of aircraft, addressing the growing demand for cargo capacity.
Typical Passenger to Freight (P2F) conversion takes about 120 days. The period that the aircraft is grounded is usually used by the customer to carry out heavy maintenance work and avionics upgrades to allow the ageing aircraft, meet new regulations and reconfigure the cockpit to be as similar as possible to new aircraft.
Until recently, the 767-300 feedstock was limited, as airlines preferred to keep these aircraft in service. However, Covid-19 has changed this and airlines are reducing their fleets and retiring aircraft even before the end of their useful lifespan. This trend is expected to increase the feedstock and availability of 767-300, and meet growing demand from cargo operators such as UPS, DHL, and ATI/ABX/Amazon.
IAI partnered with Mitsui of Japan on the 767-300 cargo conversion program, with IAI being responsible for the development, certification, and production of the conversion, while Mitsui focused on marketing and investments. Although competing with the original aircraft manufacturer cargo conversions is tough, IAI has the upper hand with proven past performance. IAI is increasing its capacity and lines of Cargo Conversions from the narrow body B737NGs up to the wide body B747-400 and soon also the B777-300ER which is currently under development. Among IAI’s 767-300 cargo conversion customers are ATSG, Atlas Air, CargoJet, and DHL.
In recent years Amazon Air has become a major IAI customer; operating and procuring its cargo aircraft through ATSG/CAM. By 2021, Amazon will operate more than 40 767-300 cargo converted aircraft , most of them converted by IAI. DHL, another significant customer of IAI, has recently ordered another three cargo conversions aircrafts.
Canadian CargoJet has also evolved into a major IAI customer, initially acquiring four 767-300 cargo conversion aircraft on “turnkey” program. Under this project, IAI acquired the retired passenger aircraft, performed all the necessary MRO work, and converted the aircraft to the cargo configuration. Many more aircraft were converted for CargoJet or purchased by them since the initial order. Today , CargoJet is one of the largest B767 operators for e-commerce and other freight.
Having converted over 260 passenger aircraft to cargo, IAI’s Aviation Group is a world leader for MRO and cargo conversions aircraft The majority of these converted aircraft continue to be in operation today and their proven operational performance testifies to the reliability and conversion effectiveness of the aircraft and their ability to meet their user’s needs.