ATSG A321.jpg

ATSG Eyes 10-15 A321 Freighter Conversions Annually

Certification on track for 2019, with production to start in 2020.

The Air Transport Services Group (ATSG)-Precision Aircraft Solutions (PAS) joint-venture converting Airbus A321s to freighters could deliver up to 15 aircraft annually once production is at full capacity early next decade, ATSG president Joe Hete said.

"We're still targeting the end of 2019 for certification of the first aircraft and going into production in 2020," Hete told analysts on a Nov. 2 earnings call. "If you think on a conservative basis, we could probably produce, when we're up to full speed, 10 to 15 airplanes a year."

The venture, 321 Precision Conversions, was unveiled in August 2017. The announced timeline envisioned FAA supplemental type certification in 2019.

The first conversion has begun, and the venture is learning as it goes. "[F]rom a turn-time perspective, we haven't nailed that down yet," Hete said, adding that he anticipates it will take less than the 120 days that converting a 767 takes. At that rate, one line could handle 3-4 A321 conversions annually.

"Basically, [the production rate] is a matter of how many facilities we can make available for setting up production lines," he said. "And of course, a big part of that is going to be driven by what the demand is."

Boeing's most recent World Air Cargo Forecast projects the world freight fleet needing 1,170 conversions of "standard-body" passenger aircraft--which includes the A320 family--over the next 20 years. The sub-category, which also includes the popular Boeing 737, makes up the majority of the projected 1,670 converted freighters that will be delivered. The forecast also sees 980 new freighters joining the fleet by 2038.

ATSG subsidiary Pemco is a major 737 freighter-conversion provider. ATSG has a contract with Israel Aerospace Industries to convert 767s for its needs.

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