While the pandemic is still causing havoc in the passenger market, there is strong demand in the freighter conversion segment for aircraft manufacturers, as Satu Dahl discovers.

    Boeing released its annual forecast for the commercial and defense aerospace market in October. Reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and market dynamics, Boeing projects that commercial aviation and services markets will continue to face significant challenges. However, the market for the Boeing freighter family is witnessing strong demand.

    In September, Boeing, Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Company (GAMECO) and ST Engineering announced agreements to open additional freighter conversion lines in China and Singapore. “The freighter conversion programme is an excellent way to double the life of an airplane and provide operators with an economical way to replace less efficient freighters”, says Ihssane Mounir, senior vice president of commercial sales and marketing for Boeing. “By working with our partners to add freighter conversion capacity, we look forward to meeting the strong demand in this market segment and helping our customers scale their operations.”

    boeing building

    Jens Steinhagen, director of Boeing Converted Freighters, Boeing Global Services explains the reasons behind opening the conversion lines in these locations in Asia. “Boeing has more than 20 years of experience with multiple MRO facilities in Asia on freighter conversion programmes.

    “Right now, we are focused on working with our MRO partners to ensure we meet the growing market demand, which is why we added additional lines to support future capacity for both the 737-800BCF and 767-300BCF. Any future conversion line decisions, whether with existing or potentially new partners, will be driven by a variety of factors, including the business environment and market demand.”

    Steinhagen says the company continues to see strong customer demand for new 737-800BCF standard-body freighters and the 767-300BCF medium-widebody freighters. “Our recently published 2020 Commercial Market Outlook shows replacement of older generation airplanes, plus those needed for growth, will create a demand for 2,430 freighter deliveries over the next 20 years – 930 airplanes will be production freighters and 1,500 freighters will be passenger-to-freighter conversions.

    “Acceleration of passenger airplane retirements as a result of the impact of the pandemic will provide additional feedstock opportunities for freighter conversions. The freighter fleet will increase by more than half from 2,010 freighters in 2019 to 3,260 by 2039, representing a 60 per cent fleet growth over the next 20 years.”

    A flying start

    The new 737-800BCF line at GAMECO is scheduled to open in early 2021 and is the MRO company’s second conversion line for the 737-800BCF. “The addition of the new production line demonstrates our ability to quickly respond to market trends and requirements and is a testament to the skill and professionalism of the entire GAMECO-Boeing team,” said GAMECO general manager Norbert Marx.

    The second conversion line for 767-300BCF widebody converted freighter at ST Engineering’s facility in Singapore is scheduled to open later this year. In response to an enquiry about the scope of the conversion line development, ST Engineering spokesperson explained: “On the planned size of the new facility, we will be building the second line at our existing facility in Singapore, so no new hangar or construction is required.

    “We have the capacity to undertake 4-6 conversion a year with the existing line. With the second line, we can increase to 8-10 conversions a year. We have a ready pool of experienced technicians/engineers who can be reskilled or redeployed as necessary to handle the uptick in BCF volume.”

    Lim Serh Ghee, president (aerospace) of ST Engineering noted: “Our strong talent pool, operational flexibility and existing infrastructure allow us to adapt quickly to evolving market needs and render the necessary support to our partners and customers. We take pride in our partnership with Boeing and, with the opening of an additional line later this year, look forward to continuing to deliver timely and quality freighter conversions.”