Airbus expects to finalise the first firm contract for its A320 passenger to freighter (P2F) modification in December, ahead of a formal programme launch in January.
According to Michael Fuerst, vice-president marketing and sales at Airbus Freighter Conversion (AFC) - the joint venture set up by Airbus, EADS EFW and Russia partners United Aircraft (OAK) and Irkut to develop the modification - there is more than one customer already lined up and the contract signing is imminent. "We plan to launch the programme at the Air Cargo India conference in January," he says.
The AFC joint venture is targeting the conversion of secondhand passenger A320s and A321s. Airbus and EADS EFW hold a 50% share (18% and 32% respectively) in the venture, with the remainder held by Russia's OAK and Irkut.
Design of the conversion kit is under way, and the definition freeze is scheduled for mid-2008. The A320 will be the lead variant for the conversion, with work on the first aircraft due to begin in early 2010. The A321F will follow around a year later.
"The conversion will be undertaken under a type certificate rather than through a supplemental type certificate or service bulletins," says Fuerst. "This will enable converted aircraft to be fully integrated into the Airbus system for spares and support."
The list price for the conversion is $4.5 million (escalated to 2011 dollars). The A320F has a payload of up to 23t, while the larger A321F will be able to carry up to 27.5t.
Irkut will build the conversion kit, while EFW has responsibility for producing the composite floor panels. Prototype conversions will be undertaken by EFW in Dresden, and Airbus will be responsible for the flight-test programme.
Once series production is under way, conversions will be undertaken in Dresden and by Irkut at its Lukhovitsy plant. "By 2015-16, the plan is to reach our maximum of 34 conversions a year," says Fuerst.