AEI formally launches MD-80 cargo conversion product

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Aeronautical Engineers (AEI) has formally launched a passenger-to-freighter conversion (PTF) for the Boeing MD-80.

ATI and Flightglobal reported last week that AEI was preparing to launch a P2F conversion for the MD-82, 83, and 88 with a US FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) expected as early as July 2011. In a 10 February statement, AEI confirmed it has launched a conversion programme for the MD-80 focusing on four variants - the MD-81, 82, 83 and 88. The statement confirms "AEI expects initial certification by summer 2011" with the conversion ultimately certified by the FAA as well as Europe's EASA and China's CAAC.

ATI also reported last week that Florida-based AEI was close to finalising a deal with Boeing that would make it an OEM-licensed third-party STC provider for the MD-80SF. The 10 February statement does not mention a license from Boeing but AEI VP of sales and marketing Robert Convey tells ATI that "we will be Boeing licensed". He adds that the MD-80 will be formally added to AEI's license for 737 conversions, which it secured from Boeing late last year, in "a few more days".

Wagner Aeronautical earlier this week announced it had already secured a license from Boeing for its own MD-80 P2F conversion STC. California-based Wagner, which previously has participated in 737 and 757 conversion programmes as a supplier of engineering services but is pursuing the MD-80SF on its own, has not yet decided on a certification schedule.

As AEI, which says programme development costs will be fully funded by the firm, has already set a certification schedule and begun the process of acquiring a prototype aircraft it appears it will be the first company with a certified MD-80SF. Over the last decade several firms have looked at developing conversion products for the MD-80 but unti now no company has formally launched an MD-80SF programme.

AEI currently has a cargo conversion programme for the 737-200, -300 and -400 and over the years has modified more than 350 aircraft, including 225 Boeing 727s. As is the case with its 737 programme, the MD-80s will be converted in Miami at sister company Commercial Jet.

"AEI has been studying the MD-80SF passenger to freighter conversion for over 10 years and made the decision to launch the programme based on the low asset value," Convey says in the AEI statement. "Historically narrowbody passenger aircraft have only been converted in large numbers when they reached the zone of conversion, which is around 15 years of age and at or close to scrap value. The MD-80 now meets both these criteria and will be converted in large numbers in years to come."

The statement says the MD-80SF will feature 21,320kg (47,000lbs) of cargo capacity and accommodate 12 customised containers, confirming the specs first reported by ATI and Flightglobal last week. The containers need to be customised because the MD-80 fuselage is too narrow to accommodate the standard containers used in 737 freighters and larger aircraft.