Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) expects to open its new passenger-to-freighter conversion (P2F) facility in Abu Dhabi during the second half of this year. The facility can refit up to 100 Boeing 777-300ERSFs, IAI Aviation Group vice president and general manager Shmuel Kuzi said on the eve of the Paris Air Show.
“We will obtain a Supplementary Type Certificate [STC] In the third quarter,” he told AIN. “They’ll start around June or early July. “
Etihad Engineering’s facility at Abu Dhabi International Airport will be IAI’s first Boeing 777 modification center to open outside Israel. Meanwhile, retrofits with ST Aero and Sharp Technics in South Korea are expected in Singapore as early as 2024. It has also set its sights on the United States, “where we are examining options,” he said. “At the end of the day, we will have four or five locations doing B777 conversions. Abu Dhabi will be a very important conversion point for us. We are working closely with the UAE and everything is going well.”
Starting with two lines and growing to three or more, Abu Dhabi could one day become a center of excellence for conversion, Kuzi said. “As of now, there are two production lines, but it will increase and the number will depend on several factors – such as hangar and facility availability,” he said. “As it develops, we hope to convert other aircraft types.”
Kuzi claims customers have placed dozens of orders for the Boeing 777. In 2021, Emirates has ordered four B777-300ERSFs from IAI. They are likely to be converted in Abu Dhabi, as will feedstock from a 2019 agreement between IAI and GE Capital Aviation Services (Gecas) to convert the so-called “Big Twin”, a program in which the lessor initially committed the company to participate Order 15, choose 15 more.
IAI declined to clarify whether the delivery of the first B777ERSF converted in Abu Dhabi came from Emirates, the Big Twin program or another source, citing the sensitivity of the matter.
“In about two years, we will start [Airbus] A330,” Kuzi added. “We are already working on narrowbodies and will start working on widebodies, which may lead us to open more facilities. But, for now, we’re focused on the four or five I mentioned. “
IAI will receive STC approval for the modification of the A330 by the Israel Civil Aviation Authority and the US FAA through a bilateral agreement. “We will extend this to EASA and other agencies around the world,” he said.
Work has started on a Boeing 767 conversion at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade. “As of now, Serbia is the base for the B767; one plane is in the advanced stages and there is already another plane waiting in line,” Kuzi said.
traffic slows down
Cargo volumes have slowed recently as economic headwinds hit trade, said Chris Seymour, head of market analysis at Ascend by Cirium in London. However, he noted that 2023 will be a record year for conversions, as e-commerce and replacement demand generate demand for around 200 units.
“Conversion orders have been slowing – we’re seeing about 270 announced in 2022, 100 fewer than a year ago, and 30 announced so far in 2023,” he told AIN. “The backlog is about 520. There are some customers who are now deciding to delay switching, and 2023 is likely to be the peak switching period in the current cycle.”
According to the published order backlog, the top converters include Germany’s Elbe Flugzeugwerke with 26%, IAI with 24%, Boeing with 18%, Aeronautical Engineers with 12% and Precision Conversions with 9%. New players developing STCs include Fort Worth, Texas-based Mammoth and Kansas Conversion Center for the 777, Embraer’s E-Jets, Nanchang, China-based Saipeng Zixuan and San Diego’s A320/A321 C Cubed, and the A330 of Avensis in the UK.
“Of the 146 jets retrofitted in 2022, 81 will be done in Asia — 63 in China and 18 in Singapore,” Seymour said. “Nearly 200 conversions are expected to be completed in 2023 – 60 by early May – as additional lines are being opened. For example, we recently saw the first A330 conversion at Starco in Shanghai, Boeing in Hyderabad GMR added a 737-800 BCF line.”
Seymour sees the 737-800 leading all conversions again in 2023, with 80 aircraft expected, as more and more airlines look to add the type, some of which have not previously played a role in the all-cargo market. Convertible stock for the 767 and 757 models has begun to dry up, leading to an inevitable shift to the 777 and A330, he said.
“The 757 will be phased out over the next two years as the market shifts to the A321; the 767 still has a large backlog in 2023 and 2024, but the focus is now shifting to the A330, which has two more programs [IAI and Avensis] Join EFW in development,” he said.