While the market for converting mid-life Boeing 737-800 passenger aircraft to freighters is set to take off, according to a new white paper on the freighter-conversion market from IBA Group, the group cautions that because several different conversion programs are available for companies planning to own or operate converted 737-800s need to take several cost factors into account.
In addition to focusing on freighter market conditions overall, IBA’s wide-ranging white paper Freighter Conversions – Capitalising on the Resurgence in Demand, published earlier this month to accompany the launch of the consulting firm’s new freighter advisory practice to serve predicted growth in the air cargo industry, takes a close look at the 737-800 conversion market.
As well as describing in detail the pricing decisions companies must make in deciding when to convert 737-800 passenger aircraft to freighters, and forecasting when the 737-800 conversion market will really accelerate, IBA’s white paper notes that three different conversion programs are already under development and a fourth program is likely to be announced in the future.
Boeing, Aircraft Engineers and Israel Aircraft Industries are already developing 737-800 conversion programs and IBA Group expects Pemco, which was the first company to develop any Boeing 737NG conversion with its 737-700 program, to announce a similar program for the 737-800 in the future.
Because at least three and possibly four different 737-800 conversion programs – all different in specification – will be available for a narrowbody aircraft model which will become available for conversion in large numbers, IBA says would-be owners and operators of converted 737-800 freighters need to pay particular attention to six factors arising from the specification differences.
The first major area of difference among the various conversion programs lies in the location of the 737-800’s main deck cargo door and the loading configurations and limitations specific to each particular conversion. These differences mean each of the conversions will require different loading programs – which IBA says in its experience can impact operations with mixed fleets from different conversion programs.
Second is the fact that different conversion suppliers use different components and parts. This means any carrier operating a mixed fleet from different suppliers will need to have adequate parts support for each conversion type – an additional cost which needs to be factored into the operator’s commercial decision-making.
Third, while Boeing’s B737-800BCF is an OEM conversion and so operators of BCFs do not need to pay an annual access fee for Boeing support, the IAI and AEI conversions are being developed under license from Boeing. Operators of 737-800s converted under these programs will need to pay an annual access fee per aircraft for the first four aircraft in any license-converted ﬂeet, according to IBA – so when evaluating conversion costs, these additional licensing costs must be taken into account.
Aircraft manuals form a fourth area requiring consideration. An aircraft’s operational and maintenance manuals need to be updated if it is converted to a freighter. Manuals and documents which require updating include the aircraft maintenance manual, illustrated parts catalogue, wiring diagram, fault isolation manual, operations manual, flight manual, weight and balance manual, minimum equipment list – and other documents.
While IBA says it is unclear as yet if the conversion suppliers are offering integrated manuals or supplements, some operators probably will ask for integrated manuals – and these would represent another additional cost to take into account.
A fifth area to be considered is product support. Only the 737-800BCF will have OEM product support: the OEM-licensed conversions will need both OEM and STC-owner support.
Sixth, if operators intend to transport live animals and perishables in their converted 737-800 freighters, they must verify with the conversion supplier the aircraft’s capabilities to do so.