Thai Airways International is planning to move into the Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A300-600 freighter conversion business with the help of Israel Aerospace Industries and US firm Flight Structures (FSI) respectively.

The Thai national carrier's vice-president of heavy maintenance, Chailerk Thipayachan, says: "We are about to sign the memorandum of understanding with IAI" to carry out Boeing 747-400 passenger-to-freighter conversions at Bangkok's Don Muang airport.

The first freighter conversion will be for a third-party customer rather than for Thai, says Chailerk.

It has yet to secure a launch customer but will eventually be tasked with converting at least some of Thai's 747-400s into freighters, says Chailerk, adding that Thai might end up operating the 747 freighters itself.

This would be significant because Thai currently operates no freighters and instead relies on the bellyhold space on its passenger aircraft and wet-leased freighters.

Chailerk also says Thai plans to convert at Don Muang some of its A300-600s into freighters using the supplemental type certificate of US firm FSI.

Thai has already phased out four of its A300-600s and the next one to be grounded is likely to be converted by Thai into a freighter, which means the programme will start next year, he says.

Once converted the airline will either sell the aircraft or choose to operate the freighter itself, he adds.

To help accommodate the extra work arising from freighter conversions, Thai is converting two line maintenance hangars at Don Muang which will mean it will have a total of five hangars there for heavy maintenance.

It is also doing a feasibility study to determine whether to build three more hangars.

Source: Flight International