German modification and maintenance specialist Elbe Flugzeugwerke has won a contract from Vallair to launch its Airbus A321 passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion programme.
EFW – a joint venture between ST Aerospace and Airbus – says the first aircraft will arrive at its Dresden facility later this year and is scheduled to be completed in 2019.
Vallair president Gregoire Lebigot tells FlightGlobal that the deal covers the conversion of 10 A321s, with a further 10 options, and that the firm is also evaluating a potential order to convert A320s.
ST Aero unveiled its A320/A321 P2F programme in 2015 and today expects the first A320 conversion to be completed in 2020.
Lebigot says the first A321 to be converted is MSN835 and that Vallair has secured another seven of the type from different operators.
Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that MSN835, powered by International Aero Engines V2500s, was manufactured in 1998 and is in operation with Turkish carrier Onurair.
Vallair is a Luxembourg-headquartered aircraft trading and leasing company, which also has maintenance and aircraft disassembly facilities in France. Leasing activities have so far been concentrated on Boeing 737s and ATR turboprops, Lebigot says.
Noting that the A321P2F will be the first narrowbody capable of accommodating standard cargo containers on the lower deck, he says the type will be a “game-changer” for airfreight operators. “We see a huge potential in the A321P2F, not only as a replacement of the Boeing 757 freighter, but as a key tool for the cargo industry,” he says.
ST Aero president Lim Serh Ghee states that growth in the e-commerce and express freight businesses has led to an “uptick" in freighter demand.
Airbus notes that EFW’s A320/A321 P2F programme is the only freighter conversion scheme for the narrowbody family developed in partnership with the airframer. US modifications specialist PacAvi had launched an A320 P2F programme in 2014, but the effort has been delayed due to a shareholder change.
Under the Airbus partnership, EFW majority shareholder ST Aero is responsible for the engineering effort, while EFW serves as a modification centre.
EFW also delivered in late 2017 the first A330 converted freighter under a similar arrangement.