US manufacturer determined to beat IAI to launch after losing 737 and 767 race

Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering (TAECO) has been selected by Boeing as the modification shop for its 747-400 Special Freighter (SF) conversion programme and expects to have a customer in place to allow a launch by the end of March.

Several carriers are in talks with Boeing over contracting TAECO to convert 747-400 passenger aircraft to freighters in 2005. Boeing has the prime role on the programme, with full responsibility for product development and marketing.

"We intend to do the engineering ourselves," says Boeing Commercial Aviation Services vice- president of freighter conversions Mike Stewart. "We intend to do the first unit at TAECO, where we do the 747-200s and 747-300s now."

Stewart says Boeing has requested quotes from several other potential partners, including SIA Engineering, and will select other suppliers after the formal launch. Both Boeing and SIA Engineering own stakes in TAECO.

Certification and first delivery is set for mid-2005. Boeing hopes the new programme will offset declining demand for 747-200/300SF conversions, as Stewart expects only six to eight more orders, given the high availability of used 747-200 freighters. Boeing launched a 747-300 combi-to-freighter conversion programme two years ago but does not plan to do passenger aircraft.

Boeing hopes its $20 million target price for 747-400SF conversions will be low enough to retain its prime role and launch ahead of Israel Aircraft Industries, which has beaten Boeing to the launch of the 737-300/400 and 767-200 and is planning its own 747-400 conversion. Boeing has so far failed to find launch customers for 737 and 767 conversions, forcing it to hand Aeronavali the prime role for the 767 and Goordrich and Inter-Continental Aircraft Services co-prime responsibilities for the 737.

Source: Flight International