Consortium to convert freighters

 - July 16, 2008, 10:25 AM

Airbus Freighter Conversion (AFC), the joint venture established in March 2007 by EADS EFW, Airbus, United Aircraft Corporation and Irkut, yesterday signed a firm contract to convert 30 Airbus A320s and A321s into freighters for Netherlands-based lessor AerCap.

AFC’s CEO, Lars Becker, said the value of the program totals $135 to $140 million and he expects all 30 to be converted in Dresden, where EADS EFW has converted A300s and A310s since the early 1990s. The contract calls for deliveries to start in 2012. The companies expect to finish all 30 airframes within three years.

UAC president Alexey Fedorov said AFC would open a second assembly line at Moscow’s Zhukovsky air base between one and two years after completion in 2011 of the first conversion in Dresden. “First we need to finish the final assembly line in Dresden and our engineers and workers need to learn the task,” he said. “Zhukovsky will use the same technology and tooling as the Dresden line.”

AerCap CEO Klaus Heinemann said that all but one of the airframes involved have been identified. They are currently in airline service and have reached what he regards as the optimum age for conversion of 15 years. Clients for the freighters have yet to be found, but there is a substantial market simply to replace existing freighters in this size class, he said, in addition to future growth.

“We have had discussions with key users and we are confident that the first delivery dates in 2012 will coincide with demand,” Heinemann added. Airbus projects a demand for approximately 900 A320-size freighters over the next 20 years. It estimates that the converted A320s will burn 20 to 30 percent less fuel per ton transported than the types they will replace.

UAC and Irkut each gain control of 25 percent of the AFC joint venture. EADS subsidiaries EFW and Airbus hold 32 percent and 18 percent respectively. They expect to convert about 400 A320s between 2012 and 2026.