China’s new civil aviation minister is prodding the country’s airlines to operate more dedicated freighters, giving a fillip to maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company Ameco Beijing’s ambitions to enter into the freighter conversion business.

The newly appointed director general of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Li Jiaxiang, has told the country’s state-run media that Chinese airlines in 2000 had 44% market share for air cargo to and from China but now they only have 18% share.

Chinese airlines need to win back market share from foreign carriers, says Li, adding that if they fail they will be marginalised in the international air cargo market.

“The intention from Li Jiaxiang is very logical,” Andreas Meisel, general manager of Ameco Beijing, Air China and Lufthansa’s MRO joint venture in Beijing, said in an interview.

Li’s comments also complement Ameco’s ambition to enter the Boeing 747 passenger-to-freighter conversion business.

Meisel says Air China plans to replace its 747-400 passenger aircraft in future which will free them to be converted into freighters.

But he says Ameco’s move into the freighter conversion market - with Air China as the launch customer - depends on whether it can secure enough freighter conversions to make it viable.

“There is a lot of investment involved in terms of training the people and getting tools and equipment and the question is how many freighter conversions can you get,” he says, adding that to be viable Ameco would need to have at least three 747s to convert per year.

Air China has a dozen aircraft that could be converted to full-freighters, according to Flight’s ACAS database.

Meisel says: “If you only have two or three freighter conversions from a customer like Air China it makes no sense to go into this product because you need…a supplemental type certificate holder and [for 747s] there is only Boeing and Bedek [Aviation Group].”

Ameco has spoken to Boeing and Bedek, says Meisel, who declines to be drawn on which partner he favours.

It also depends if Ameco has enough spare capacity because one freighter conversion along with a ‘D-check’ takes four to five months to complete, he says.

But Ameco does have plenty of capacity, says Meisel, referring to the fact that it has just completed a new maintenance hangar that can hold four Airbus A380s simultaneously.

In the fourth quarter this year it plans to complete construction of another four-bay hangar that can accommodate aircraft as large as a 747 and doubles as an aircraft paint shop.

These two ultra-large hangars are in addition to its existing hangars.

“After building up these two new hangars, Ameco will simultaneously provide 15 widebody and 11 narrowbody bays for aircraft maintenance and overhaul,” says Ameco.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news