ST Aerospace plans to roll out the first prototype of the A330 passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion in 2016, and obtain supplemental type certification the same year.
The Singapore-based maintenance, repair and overhaul firm is now in talks with "a handful" of potential customers, and hopes to secure a launch airline by the end of 2012, says its president Chang Cheow Teck.
Qatar Airways is among the candidates for the modified cargo aircraft, he confirms. The Gulf network carrier had previously threatened to order Boeing 767 freighters if Airbus failed to launch an A330 conversion programme.
ST Aerospace will begin the engineering development phase of the conversion later this year, initially concentrating on larger A330-300s.
Chang expects there to be at least 1,100 A330s suitable for conversion by 2017.
"Today, only a few customers have old A330s. By 2017, there will be an abundance of airframes of a certain age at a price that will make them attractive to convert, giving them a new lease of life," he adds.
Conversion will take place at EADS EFW's base in Dresden and also at either ST Aero's Singapore or Mobile, Alabama facility.
EADS and ST Aero formally the launched the A330P2F conversion programme in May.