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AEI receives large order for 737-800 converted freighters

Shortfall in air cargo capacity attracts increased interest in passenger retrofit market

Aeronautical Engineers Inc. converted this Boeing 737-800 for Ethiopian Airlines. (Photo: AEI)

A contract from Aero Capital Solutions to convert 10 Boeing 787-800 aircraft into freighters represents the largest single order ever for Aeronautical Engineering Inc.

The Miami-based aerospace engineering firm, which designs modification plans and kits, is now scheduled to do 14 conversions for Aero Capital, after the aircraft lessor in Austin, Texas, in October booked four conversion slots for the 737-800. It is the first time the leasing company has participated in the cargo market. 

Aeronautical Engineering said Tuesday that Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. Ltd.’s (HAECO) repair facility in Xiamen, China, will commence work on the first conversion in June.  Modification on the second aircraft will begin in July at STAECO, a joint venture maintenance company in China in which HAECO is a partner.

The eight remaining aircraft modifications will alternate between the two production lines, with the final conversion beginning in September 2022.

The AEI-converted B737-800SF freighter offers a main deck payload of up to 52,700 pounds and incorporates 11 full-height 88-by-125-inch container positions, plus an additional position for a smaller container. The conversion also incorporates new floor beams, a large main cargo door, a rigid barrier to protect the cockpit, five extra seats, a galley and a lavatory.

Last year, Aeronautical Engineering converted 13 aircraft, up from 11 conversions in 2019. This year the company is on track to deliver more than 30 units, including 26 737-800s, spokesman Robert Convey said.

The conversion market is very active, with freighters in high demand after the coronavirus forced passenger airlines to downsize and with shipment volumes for medical supplies, online shopping and inventory replenishment surging. The early retirement of many aircraft also is lowering the price of used aircraft. 

Last month, BBAM Aircraft Leasing & Management announced it will buy six 737-800s and send them to Boeing-affiliated facilities for conversion. The contract includes an option for six more conversions.

Boeing (NYSE: BA) and other aerospace engineering companies have been converting 737-800s for more than three years. Boeing alone has had more than 140 orders for the -800. The new kid on the block is the Airbus A321, a direct competitor in the class of narrowbody, regional cargo jets.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]