Nairobi-based cargo operator Astral Aviation will be the launch operator of the Airbus A320 passenger-to-freighter aircraft, taking its first example in the second quarter of the year.
The African carrier will be sub-leasing two examples from Middle Eastern lessor Vaayu Group, which on 14 February firmed up plans to lease five A320P2Fs from ST Engineering.
ST Engineering, which is working on the conversion programme with Airbus joint venture EFW, will place the first converted freighter on lease in the second quarter, and adds that the remaining four aircraft will be converted and leased “progressively”.
Last November, Vaayu announced its intentions to lease A320P2Fs from ST Engineering’s leasing unit ST Engineering Aerospace Resources.
The A320P2F is EFW’s second narrowbody freighter conversion programme, after the A321P2F, which entered service with launch customer Qantas in 2020.
The German company also performs passenger-to-freighter conversion work on other Airbus types, including the A330-200 and -300.
Says ST Engineering head of aviation asset management Yip Heng Meng: “As an aviation asset solution provider that is backed by other integrated lifecycle capabilities including freighter conversion and MRO, we are able to provide comprehensive solutions not offered by other service providers, and help operators gain a competitive edge.”
The A320P2F will be Astral’s first Airbus freighter — the operator has a fleet of Boeing cargo aircraft, including 747s, 767s and 727s.
Astral chief Sanjeev Gadhia has hinted that the airline could consider “future freighter acquisitions” of Airbus aircraft, including the A330s and A350s.
The first aircraft bound for Astral took off on its maiden test flight on 8 December. According to Cirium fleets data, the A320 last operated with Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo for two years, between 2018 and October 2020. It was first delivered to LATAM Airlines Brazil in 2006 and operated with the airline for 11 years.