Israel Aircraft Industries' (IAI) Bedek Aviation Group has beaten Boeing to the launch of a passenger-to-freighter conversion programme for the 747-400.

The company has a launch order from an undisclosed US carrier, and expects to deliver the first aircraft in just over 18 months. The move pitches IAI into direct competition with Boeing, which is planning its own conversion.

"The positive reaction from potential customers and the financial community to our preliminary designs prompted IAI and Bedek management to proceed with the programme," says IAI corporate vice president and general manager of Bedek David Arzi. He adds that the drop in market value for the aircraft means the "acquisition and conversion can be accomplished for $54-58 million".

Bedek is confident that it can complete the reconfiguration of the first aircraft and achieve certification in time for deliveries in the second quarter of 2005, he adds.

IAI's conversion will include the installation of an aft main-deck cargo door and reinforced floor, as well as changes to the upper deck floor to enable 3m (10ft)-high cargo containers to be accommodated on the main deck.

Source: Flight International