Vallair has launched a “reversible, reconfigurable, fast and low-cost” widebody cargo conversion solution that aims to bridge the gap while operators wait for full freighter conversion slots.
The E Class widebody freighter conversion capability was unveiled at the official launch of Vallair’s new MRO and cargo conversion hangar in Châteauroux, France, which was attended by Aviation Business News publications MRO Management and Airline Cargo Management as well as other trade media and local journalists.
As reported, the 8,520sq m hangar – which began operations in February – can accommodate up to five A321 size aircraft simultaneously, or a combination of A330/A340 and A321s.
The new E Class cargo conversion solution is the result of a joint investment between Vallair and UUDS, which is Part 21 certified, and is currently available for A330-300 aircraft. EASA approval using a Supplemental Type Certificate is expected within the next two months.
The solution does not need a large cargo door to be installed and involves the use of a conveyor belt and cargo nets, with the upper deck dedicated to e-commerce and the lower deck to general cargo. Up to 61 tonnes of cargo can be carried in total, with a range of approximately 4,200nm.
Vallair’s founder, president and CEO Grégoire Lebigot noted that operators may currently have to wait five years or more for full freighter conversion slots, so market demand for cargo space – particularly given the rise of e-commerce – dictated the need for an innovative solution. He said Vallair was also the “first to address this demand in the market”.
“Innovation is and has always been integral to Vallair’s DNA,” Lebigot said. “Turning the Airbus A330-300 upper deck into a cargo area without installing the large cargo door means that the conversion cost will be just a quarter of the cost compared to a conversion with one. Turnaround time will be just around one month instead of six – so the benefits are clear to see. Also, it is the very first ‘made in France’ cargo conversion programme for a widebody aircraft, and Vallair is proud to spearhead this efficient, industry-leading process as part of its re-industrialisation of aviation in the region.”
Vallair’s E Class solution means that loading is not done on pallets or containers but uses a conveyor that fits inside the cargo hold to efficiently load and distribute individual parcels instead. This concept expedites the process and reduces turnaround times considerably, according to Vallair. Loading is estimated to take less than two hours in total.
“This solution addresses current market needs and increases the value of the asset because it is completely reversible should the market change,” added Lebigot. “The aircraft can easily be converted back to PAX configuration, or transformed into a freighter with a large cargo door in future. It is a complementary alternative solution to the traditional freighter conversion, not a replacement.”
On the importance of the reversible design, UUDS’ founder and CEO Gilles Negre commented: “Flexibility in aircraft cabin and cargo configuration has always been key factor for successful aviation operations and revenue optimisation. Our quick change and reversible solution brings this versatility to operators and gives them additional revenue generating options. It also offers lessors alternative solutions to boost their aircraft utilisation and life expectancy. Return-on-investment is improved and asset value is increased.”
The opening of Vallair’s new hangar in Châteauroux (pictured above) was an important catalyst for the Airbus A330-300 E Class conversion. Vallair has the ability to perform both wide and narrowbody maintenance in the hanger, allowing it to offer a ‘Swiss-knife’ approach with tailored solutions using all of its capabilities on site. These includes maintenance, paint, engine shop, aerostructure repairs, conversion, teardown and component support.
The first two Deucalion Aviation-managed Airbus A330-300 aircraft are already in Châteauroux and scheduled to undertake the E Class conversion at Vallair. “We are excited to work with both Vallair and UUDS, known for their engineering excellence, on this innovative and cost effective project,” said Deucalion Aviation’s co-CEO and chief operating officer Jonathan Skirrow. “The widebody freighter market outlook offers opportunities for proven platforms such as mid-life Airbus A330 aircraft to continue operations for many years to come.”
France-based Regio Lease is the associated CAMO partner, while Deucalion Aviation is the asset manager of the first two aircraft to be converted into E-class configuration.
“Alongside our partners, UUDS, Deucalion Aviation and Regio Lease, we’re now on our way to creating an Airbus A330 centre of excellence in the heart of France,” concluded Lebigot.