The Airbus A321F is prized by operators for efficient cargo transport. Overseeing 11 A321F among a fleet of 62 aircraft, Zygimantas Surintas, chief executive of SmartLynx Airlines, explains its advantages to Air Cargo Management.
In recent years, the air freight industry has experienced both growth leaps and challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated e-commerce growth, which consequently boosted demand for airmail deliveries and, thus, air cargo services. At the same time, the plunge in passenger air travel reduced the options of using belly space in passenger flights.
This placed great pressure on air freight carriers to find ways to optimise their operations, especially since shoppers, now more than ever, expected their orders to arrive within days – if not hours. The industry’s response to this challenge was increased adoption of narrowbody freighters, as well as converting passenger aircraft to freighters.
While narrowbody freighters combined the efficiency of smaller aircraft with the capacity to handle significant cargo volumes, passenger-to-freight (P2F) conversions allowed airlines to increase their cargo capacity without requiring additional aircraft purchases.
The rise of A321F
The Airbus A321F aircraft has emerged as a strong player in the narrowbody freighter segment. Originally designed as a passenger plane, the A321F retains the airframe of its passenger version but is modified to serve as a spacious freighter. Compared to other freight aircraft in its class, the A321F offers several advantages, making it a compelling choice for cargo operators.
The A321F’s potential for P2F conversion makes it the most versatile aircraft in its class. This offers several benefits to aircraft operators, such as allowing aircraft operators to meet changing market conditions and cargo demands. But in the long run, P2F also extends the operational life of an aircraft; instead of retiring the aircraft that is no longer suitable for passenger transportation, it can continue to generate revenue by transporting cargo.
Fast turnaround and extensive payload capacity
The A321F aircraft has a payload capability of up to 28 tonnes and up to 14 full container positions on the main deck – more than the B737 and B757 cargo aircraft. Containerised main and lower decks allow for efficient loading, organisation and unloading of cargo, ensuring quick turnaround and reducing the time the aircraft spends on the ground; full load in and out can be performed in 40 minutes.
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The A321F offers up to 2,300nm in range with full payloads, making it suitable for various freight transportation needs, and allows for seamless transportation of cargo across regional and even some transcontinental routes, catering to the demands of a globalised supply chain.
Up to 30 per cent more cost-effective
The size and capabilities of the A321F make it suitable for regional and medium-haul cargo operations and offer lower operational costs than its nearest competitors, the B737F and B757F. In fact, direct operational costs for the A321F are up to 30 per cent lower compared to the classic B757-200 and B737 freighters, making it a more cost-effective option for cargo transportation.
A step toward more sustainable air transportation
The A321 P2F boasts 20 per cent lower fuel consumption compared to other aircraft in the class, making it the most fuel-efficient narrowbody cargo aircraft available. Beyond lowering costs, this considerable improvement in fuel efficiency is crucial for reducing the environmental impact of air transportation and promoting sustainability in the aviation industry.
11 A321F conversions and counting
SmartLynx currently operates 11 A321F aircraft, which is 22 per cent of the company’s fleet. Eight of the A321F aircraft are already converted, and six are to be converted later in 2023 or early 2024. This allows SmartLynx to meet the changing demands for air cargo capacity and optimise the utilisation of the existing aircraft assets, enhancing operational efficiency.
No less important, P2F conversions somewhat ease the pressing situation with supply chain issues that have been affecting operations and maintenance of the aviation industry throughout 2023. The possibility of repurposing underutilised passenger aircraft into a high-demand freighter alleviates the shortage of dedicated cargo aircraft. Simply put, this means fewer disruptions and delays in cargo deliveries.
At the end of the day, the use of convertible aircraft just makes more sense for the lessee. Some figures show there can be close to a 50 per cent difference in monthly lease costs, making it the most cost-effective option for our clients.
This feature was first published in Air Cargo Management – August/September 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.