ANALYSIS: Widebody freighter conversions collapse in 2013

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The widebody freighter conversion market collapsed in 2013 with just eight large aircraft converted, compared with 28 in 2012.

Overall freighter conversions fell to 61 aircraft in 2013 from 74 in 2012, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend online database.

In 2013 just six A300s and two 767s were converted to freighters. Not a single 747 was converted during the year.

Narrowbody conversions, however, were strong in 2013 with 47 aircraft becoming freighters, compared with just 39 aircraft in 2012.

The most popular aircraft for conversion in 2013 was the 737-400, with 21 becoming freighters and three becoming combis. The year also saw 18 757-200s converted.

2013 Freighter conversions by type

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Chris Seymour of Flightglobal’s Ascend consultancy arm says the express cargo market - namely FedEx as well as a handful of European and African carriers, is keeping the conversion market alive. The market has been boosted by good availability of passenger aircraft for passenger to freight (P2F) conversions and low aircraft values

“The widebody freighter market has been so poor that we have seen 2013 retirements of four A300-600Fs, two A310-300Fs, three 747-400BCFs, two MD-11Fs, all of which we would have expected to see longer lives,” he adds.

The biggest recipient of converted freighters in 2013 was FedEx, which received 16 757-200SFs, followed by European Air Transport, which received four A300-620RFs, according to Ascend.

The average age of aircraft converted in 2013 was 19.7 years, essentially unchanged from an average age of 19.6 years in 2012.

Miami, Florida saw the most freighter conversions in 2013, with 10 taking place. Nine aircraft underwent freighter conversions in Mobile, Alabama, with eight each in Singapore and Jinan, China.

2013 Freighter conversions by location

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As for the fourth quarter of 2013, there were 21 freighter conversions completed, with Boeing 737-400 and 757-200 aircraft the main aircraft converted during the period.

The average age of converted aircraft during the quarter was 20.4 years. The oldest aircraft converted was a 1987 vintage Saab 340 that will be operated by Aloha Air Cargo. The newest aircraft converted was a 1998 vintage 757-200 that will be operated by Air China.

The biggest recipient of newly converted freighters in the fourth quarter was FedEx, which took delivery of five 757-200s. Three of its 757 conversions took place at Mobile, Alabama and two at Singapore’s Seletar airfield.

The most converted type was the 737-400, with eight CFM56 examples converted to 737-400SFs. One 737-400 was converted to a Combi aircraft for use by Safair. The quarter also saw a single 737-300 converted to a -300SF.

4Q 2013 Freighter conversions

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Only two wide-bodied aircraft underwent conversion in the last three months of 2013 - an Airbus A300 and a 767-300ER. This is down sharply from the fourth quarter of 2012, when five widebodies (three A300s and two 767s) were converted to freighters.