More than 80 mainline jet passenger aircraft underwent conversion to freighters last year and the total value of the 2018 conversion market approached $1 billion including all associated costs, according to UK aviation technical consultancy IBA Group.
Companies converted 87 passenger jets in 2018, compared with 75 in 2017 and 70 in 2016, according to IBA Group. Three widely used Boeing airliners accounted for almost all 2018 freighter conversions, including twenty-five 737-400s, twenty-three 757-200s, and twenty-seven 767-300ERs, reported Jonathan McDonald, the firm’s head analyst for commercial and aging aircraft. Airbus airliners accounted for most of the rest, including the first two A330-200s (from Egyptair’s fleet and for its own use, to replace A300-600Fs) and the first three A330-300s to undergo freighter conversion.
Direct conversion costs for the 87 aircraft totaled $641.5 million, materials costs representing about 70 percent of that, said IBA Group CEO Phil Seymour. The direct cost of converting a Boeing 767-300ER amounts to some $14 million, compared with $15 million for an A330-200 and $16 million for an A330-300. However, IBA estimated that, in addition to direct conversion costs, the costs of additional routine and non-routine maintenance needed on the aircraft (plus other P&L-account items such as lost operational time and revenue) meant total customer spending on turning the aircraft into operational freighters “could edge on to nearly $1 billion,” said McDonald.
Extra spending on routine and non-routine maintenance is common in passenger-to-freighter (P2F) aircraft conversions, said Seymour. “The best time to do a conversion is to combine it with a heavy ‘C’ or ‘D’ check,” he said. Additionally, when stripping out aircraft passenger and cabin fittings during conversion, problems such as airframe corrosion often need immediate attention.
IBA Group estimates that the P2F market for Boeing and Airbus narrowbodies will grow from 611 aircraft in active service today to 879 in 2024. While the number of in-service Boeing 737-300Fs will decline a little and 737-400F numbers will increase only very slightly, numbers of A320PFs, A321PFs, 737-700Fs, and 757-200PFs will grow significantly, it added. The 737-800F will demonstrate the most significant growth, as numbers in service increase from 14 today to 131 in 2024, estimated IBA.
The mid-capacity widebody P2F market will also grow, with the numbers of freighter-converted A330-200P2Fs, A330-300P2Fs, and 767-300ERFs growing the most, said the consultancy. Already dominating the mid-capacity widebody P2F market segment, the 767-300ERF will remain the dominant type in 2024. IBA estimated that the number of those models in service will grow from 251 today to 310 five years from now.
While the numbers of original-build 747-8Fs and 777Fs will continue to grow through 2024, any growth in the large widebody P2F segment will depend on whether Boeing or others launch conversion programs for the passenger 777-200ER and 777-300ER, said McDonald. He estimated any 777-200ERP2F conversion would first enter service in “2022-ish”, and any 777-300ERP2F program at an unspecified later date.