IATA reports that global air freight ton-kilometers grew by 10.4% in the first-half of 2017, compared with the first-half of 2016, the strongest first half-year performance since air cargo’s rebound from the financial crisis in 2010. But what does that mean for cargo firms seeking conversions of passenger jets to freighters?
Atlas Air Worldwide’s Titan Aviation subsidiary will dry-lease Boeing 767 freighters to Amazon, and its Atlas Air subsidiary will operate them on Amazon’s behalf. A company spokesman explains that both demand and capacity for cargo conversions vary by aircraft type. “Currently, there is very strong demand in the market for the conversion of passenger 767s, largely driven by the reconfigured aircraft’s popularity in express and e-commerce operations,” he says.
In May 2016, Atlas agreed to provide Amazon with 20 767-300 converted freighters to support continuing expansion of Amazon e-commerce and enhance delivery capabilities. The firm has now secured the necessary aircraft and conversion slots required to meet the agreement with Amazon. “We are ramping up from six aircraft currently in service for Amazon to an expected 20 by the end of 2018,” the spokesman adds.
Due to the growth in express and e-commerce markets and operations, Atlas sees conversion capacity as tightest for 767s. “Beyond the demand for 767 feedstock, capacity is further limited by the number of firms that can perform the conversions,” the spokesman says. “Currently, Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries are the only vendors providing this service.”
Nevertheless, so far conversion capacity has not prevented Atlas from getting the jets it needed. As for price and timing of deliveries, the spokesman says only, “our experience has been in line with our expectations.”
Atlas does not have any immediate plans to acquire more freighters, converted or otherwise. “We manage our fleet prudently, and may look to add aircraft in the future in response to appropriate customer demand,” the spokesman says. “We would do so only if we were able to secure the right aircraft, at the right price, for the right customer, with the right return.” One possibility: Atlas may want to complement its core widebody freighter aircraft by adding narrowbody freighters, such as converted 737-800s.
While Atlas’s current fleet is composed exclusively of Boeing aircraft, the company also believes that Airbus also has some offerings that could be viable for the future. “In particular, the A330PTF and A321PTF are two aircraft that will be interesting to monitor,” the spokesman says.