China’s Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Company (Gameco) on Tuesday marked the launch of the 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighter (BCF) program today at its Guangzhou base. The team held a door-cutting ceremony involving its first 737-800BCF, thereby beginning the production phase of its program.
Gameco and Boeing launched work on the new production line of 737-800BCF last year in response to growing demand in the air cargo market. With sharp declines in passenger air travel, airlines have shifted some of their business toward air cargo, as freighter needs have increased in response to heightened cargo demand throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
The Gameco ceremony marked the opening of the sixth full 737-800BCF conversion line in China. Two other Chinese MROs provide the current conversion capacity; Shandong Taikoo Aircraft Engineering Company (Staeco) now operates three lines and early this year began installing a fourth set of tooling for a surge line. The Boeing Shanghai Aviation Services joint venture operates another two lines. Boeing promises a 90-day turnaround time regardless of the conversion facility.
The partnerships with Chinese MROs make sense given that Boeing expects a third of the market for the airplane to reside in the People’s Republic. “We see huge growth freighters, and probably over 1,200 standard body freighters in our current market outlook. We see a significant portion of that in China,” Boeing Global Services director for converted freighters and complex modifications Alvey Pratt told AIN ahead of February’s Singapore Airshow. “It’s been pretty broad globally but we certainly see, long-term, China having a big, big role in that growth.”
Chinese operators include Hangzhou-based YTO Airline and Beijing-based China Postal Airlines, which took its airplanes on lease from Gecas.
Performance improvements over 737 Classic freighters include capacity and range while the 737-800BCF’s reduced fuel burn brings clear economic benefits. The BCF carries up to 52,800 pounds of cargo while flying routes of up to 2,000 nautical miles. Twelve pallet positions—11 standard pallets and one half-pallet—provide 5,000 cubic feet of cargo space on the main deck, supplemented by two lower-lobe compartments providing more than 1,540 cubic feet of space for bulk cargo.