BRENDAN SOBIE / SEATTLE
Rival EADS disputes UK company's claim aircraft availability is a problem
BAE Systems has delayed the launch of its Airbus A300-600 freighter conversion programme, as rival EADS has secured a supplemental type certificate for its modification and delivered the first example.
BAE, which, like EADS, has an established conversion line for the A300B4, has been undertaking the groundwork for its A300-600 freighter programme for some time. However, according to BAE business director Robin Loader, the launch has been pushed back until at the least the end of this year. Both Loader and Airbus business development director Didier Lenormand say there are not enough A300-600 passenger aircraft available yet to make a freighter conversion programme viable.
With Airbus still producing new A300-600 freighters, any glut in the used market could threaten the line. Lenormand says UPS alone is still committed to taking 72 additional aircraft up until 2009 and he does not see where it could find used aircraft to convert. "The availability is very small," he says. "If there is no availability, you can't launch a programme."
Loader agrees: "It's still a very popular passenger aircraft. They are just not traded at the moment."
However, EADS vice president of sales marketing Jurgen Habermann, who confirms that the first EADS conversion has been delivered to FedEx, disagrees. He says he is on the verge of padding his 20-aircraft orderbook: "We think they will become available this year," he says. "Airlines are phasing out the aircraft."
FedEx has acquired eight A300-600s from Korean Air for EADS to convert and Habermann says Korean's remaining 10 A300-600s are just one of several potential sources. EADS has begun converting a second and third A300-600 for FedEx and Habermann also hopes to start work soon on the 12 conversions ordered by US lessor Intrepid Aviation Partners.
The Intrepid programme is now slated to begin in 2003, but Habermann says there are talks to move first delivery up to October 2002. This would bolster EADS' projected 2002 output to 10 aircraft, including A310s.
BAE last year launched a programme under which it would acquire and convert an A300B4 for a customer and this month added leasing to this package through a partnership with Ireland's Air Contractors and South Africa's Safair. BAE will convert two aircraft this year as part of this programme, keeping its A300 line going as it waits to start work on -600 conversions.
Loader predicts a market for 70 more A300B4 freighters, including 20 to 30 in the next four years. He says the recent decline in residual value for passenger A300s allows him to now sell a B4 for $12 million, including acquisition and conversion. "Because of the delay to our -600 programme, the B4 will see an extension, but at a reduced rate," Loader says.
Source: Flight International