EADS and ST Aero finalise A330 conversion agreement

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EADS and ST Aerospace have signed an agreement formalising their launch of an Airbus A330 passenger-to-freighter conversion programme.

Under the agreement, ST Aero will pay €110.5 million ($142 million) to subscribe to new shares in EADS EFW, the Dresden-based company that is also the main EADS passenger aircraft conversion facility.

This will give the Singapore-headquartered firm a 35% stake in EADS EFW, while EADS will hold the remaining 65%. EADS has an option to buy ST Aero's stake, and this can be triggered during the engineering development phase of the programme.

As part of the agreement, the EADS EFW facility in Dresden will also become ST Aero's European maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre. This "fills a gap" in its global airframe MRO footprint, says ST Aero.

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Plans for the conversion programme were first announced at the Singapore air show in February and further details of how the two companies will divide up the work has been revealed.

The engineering development phase is likely to begin by the end of 2012 and ST Aero will be the programme and technical lead at this stage, say the two companies. EADS EFW will drive sales and marketing activities, and lead the industrialisation phase.

"The larger A330-300P2F will be particularly suitable for integrators and express carriers thanks to its high volumetric payload capability with lower-density cargo," says ST Aero. "Complementing this will be the A330-200P2F, which will be optimised for higher-density freight and longer-range performance."

The conversions will mainly take place at in Dresden and the rest will take place at a ST Aero facility that will be decided at a later stage. ST Aero performs passenger-to-freighter conversions in the USA and Singapore, and also has a significant MRO presence in China.

Marketing efforts are underway and talks have begun with several potential launch customers, says a ST Aero spokeswoman.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar al-Baker confirmed last week that his airline is in talks with EFW about possibly converting some of its large fleet of A330 passenger aircraft into freighters. The airline, however, is also talking to Boeing about a potential passenger-to-freight conversion deal for 777-200s even though it does not operate the aircraft type.