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Freight conversions to hit a record high

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July 27, 2021

Lessors have a higher share of the narrowbody conversion backlog (78%) and are the key players in the growing A321 and 737-800 markets.



By Chris Seymour, Head of Market Analysis, Ascend by Cirium



Analysis of Cirium Fleets Analyzer data shows that 57 passenger jets were converted to freighters in the first six months of 2021. This is approaching the entire total of 70 conversions done in 2020. With additional conversion slots coming online, 2021 could see a doubling to a record 140 conversions, beating the previous high of 107 in both 2007 and 1995.

This boom in activity is being driven by a combination of factors. Underlying demand for air cargo is strong, especially in the e-commerce sector, boosted by increasing online sales, both generally and especially during COVID-19 lockdowns. Available supply of feedstock has risen, as the passenger market continues to suffer, and in line with this, values of passenger aircraft have fallen, making the total conversion package more attractive. In addition, the increase in newer generation conversion programmes such as the Airbus A321, A330 and Boeing 737-800 is allowing replacement by these more fuel, efficient types.

Announced orders for conversions have passed 160 this year, well ahead of the 102 recorded in 2020 and pushing the conversion backlog above 330. 

Looking at the orders placed, there is an almost equal split between lessors and airlines. Interestingly, only 16 of the orders have come directly from the integrator/e-commerce market, although many of those converted will ultimately be operated on behalf of these companies.  Lessors have a higher share of the narrowbody conversion backlog (78%) and are the key players in the growing A321 and 737-800 markets. GECAS is also launch customer for the new 777-300ER conversion programme with IAI Bedek.

There are now 13 aircraft types and series with available conversions, and two (A320 and 777-300ER) in development. Nine companies or joint ventures have supplemental type certificates (STCs) and active programmes, while two others (C3 and Sine Draco) have aircraft in conversion as they seek STCs. The largest backlogs are with Boeing, AEI, IAI Bedek, Precision and EFW.

With the increase in backlog, the STC holders are increasing slot capacity, at their own facilities and/or at MRO third parties. Twenty different entities are involved at 25 global locations, with two more contracted to start conversions. China has become an important centre for conversions with a third of 2021 activity occurring at Gameco, STAECO, HAECO and others. About 30% of conversions are being done in North America, notably in Florida, with 16% at IAI in Tel Aviv. Other activity includes 767s in Singapore and small numbers conducted in Europe and Latin America, with recent announcements of new activity to start in Italy and Korea.

Conversions of narrowbodies make up some 60% of the backlog, led by the 737-800 with almost 120. The 757 has seen a recent renaissance with over 30 committed, but is now being overtaken by the A321. The 767s lead the widebodies and make up 25% of the whole backlog, with demand from airlines, Amazon, DHL and the China market. DHL is also a key player in the new A330 programme and has recently said it plans to order 11 more conversions.

With 2022 likely to see a further increase to around 160 conversions, some programmes are already sold out until 2023. The question is whether this higher level of supply will be maintained beyond 2022, or if it is just a short-term boom, as the long-term 20-year forecast is for an average of just under 100 conversions per year.



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Eu não se isto é viável no médio-longo prazo. Hoje há uma pressão por causa da COVID e pouco mercado cargueiro disponível.

Aviões cargueiros são bons para casos em que a capilaridade da malha de pax não atende, tipo a Azul operar VCP-SCL cargueiro. E o e-commerce tem a vantagem de ser encomendas menores.

Sei não, como gestor investiria mais nos preighters ou até montar investir em algo como a Airborne Express fazia, com containers adaptados para as portas das aeronaves de pax.



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