Malaysia Airlines (MAS) aims to begin Boeing 737-300 cargo conversions early next year and is looking to expand into other conversion products, including the Boeing 757-200SF.

A MAS source says the carrier’s in-house maintenance division hopes to launch its 737-300/400 cargo conversion soon with orders from several potential customers including Qantas subsidiary Australian Air Express (AEE). Sources say Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Pemco Aviation Group have provided Qantas with bids to convert, in the first half of next year, four 737-300s being phased out by Qantas’s New Zealand subsidiary JetConnect. Qantas is being given the option of having some of the aircraft converted in Asia to save on ferrying and labour costs. It is expected to decide on a conversion supplier within the next few weeks and hand the first aircraft over in January.

MAS, which last year partnered with Pemco as a conversion centre under its 737-300SF supplemental type certificate (STC), appears to be well placed to convert one or two of the aircraft, with the rest converted by Pemco in Alabama. Pemco’s Chinese partner, Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering, may also convert some aircraft for AEE, but this option is less likely because of a 17% tax imposed by the Chinese government on conversions. Sources say the tax is also a disadvantage for IAI’s Chinese partner Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering. Sources also say Malaysian maintenance company Airod has approached IAI about becoming a conversion centre for 737-300/400s.

The MAS source says the carrier is also discussing with cargo carriers converting 757s using an STC held by one of three companies. It also has long-term interest in converting 747s and 767s. MAS is establishing a cargo conversion business partly to satisfy potential demand from Malaysian government-owned leasing company PMB, which owns most of the airline’s 17 747-400s and all 39 of its 737-400s.

PMB plans to remarket the 737-400s after MAS acquires replacement aircraft next year and possible candidates include cargo carriers such as FedEx Express, which in early 2002 received bids from cargo conversion suppliers for up to 50 737-300/400SFs, but has since delayed its consideration of new narrowbodies.


Source: Flight International