The Airbus A330 P2F (passenger-to-freighter conversion) will finally become a reality after Airbus, Singapore’s ST Aerospace and EADS Elbe Flugzeugwerke Dresden (EFW) signed a memorandum of understanding at the Singapore Airshow on Wednesday.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders, ST Aerospace president Chang Cheow Teck and EADS EFW chief executive Andreas Sperl, in the presence of Stanislaw Tillich, prime minister of the German state of Saxony, signed the deal. The MOU calls for the first A330-300P2F to enter service in 2016, followed by a version based on the A330-200 a year later.
Working with Airbus and EADS EFW, ST Aerospace will lead the A330P2F engineering development in Singapore. EADS EFW will subsequently serve as program lead during the industrial phase and undertake most of the conversions at its facilities in Dresden.
As part of the agreement, EADS EFW would also become the European center for ST Aerospace’s global maintenance, repair and overhaul operations. The project remains subject to the completion of definitive agreements “in the coming weeks” and regulatory clearances.
Of the two models, the larger A330-300P2F will prove particularly suitable for integrators and express carriers due to its high volumetric payload capacity with lower- density cargo, in the estimation of Airbus. Meanwhile, the -200P2F would show its value more in its “optimization” for higher-density freight and longer-range performance. Sperl said the partners have decided on the specifications for the -300 and will start development work later this year.
Converted or New-build?
Answering concerns that the cargo conversion project might draw away sales of the new-build A330-200F, Airbus COO for Customers John Leahy said he didn’t consider the potential for “cannibalization” an issue. “On the contrary, we see this as a complementary program,” said Leahy, who surmised that the existence of the conversion program could somehow spur sales of the new-build airplane.
For well over a year, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker has publicly expressed impatience with Airbus over its failure to launch such a program, accusing Airbus of “dragging its heels” due to concerns over possibly drawing away sales from the A330-200F.
Enders also explained that a scarcity of engineering capacity at Airbus and EFW led to the decision to enlist “a strong strategic partner,” such as ST Aerospace. The Airbus CEO pegged the market outlook for cargo aircraft over the next 20 years at 2,700 to 2,800, virtually “all” of which, he said, will involve midsize airplanes like the A330.
ST’s Chang noted that the companies began talks some two years ago, characterizing the subsequent negotiations as “an engaging journey.”
“Aircraft conversion is one of the most complex modifications, which demands precision and engineering finesse,” added Chang.
Apart from complementing the A330-200F, the P2F conversion will enhance and sustain A330 residual values by the extending the lives of their airframes, according to Airbus.