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Air China Cargo welcomes first Airbus A330 converted freighter

New aircraft to increase fleet size by two-thirds

A freshly converted A330-200 cargo jet sits outside the Air China Cargo terminal in Shanghai. (Photo: EFW)

The cargo subsidiary of Air China has received the first of eight used Airbus passenger aircraft that are being retrofitted to transport shipping containers on the main deck.

Elbe Flugzeugwerke, an Airbus joint venture company that specializes in aftermarket engineering projects, announced Friday that licensed contractor Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Corp. (Ameco) converted and delivered an Airbus A330-200 to Air China Cargo. 

It is the first time that Air Cargo China will operate the A330-200. The national flag carrier currently has three Boeing 747-400 and nine Boeing 777 freighters. Air China Cargo is expected to dispose of four Boeing 757-200s that have not been in service for several months. It operates two domestic routes and 14 international ones, with its main base in Shanghai. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has a 24% ownership stake in the cargo airline.

EFW publicly disclosed for the first time that Air China Cargo early this year signed a contract for the passenger-to-freighter conversion of eight A330-200s. Air China, which revealed its intentions in a securities filing last April, is discontinuing use of the widebody aircraft in its passenger fleet and transferring them to its cargo division. A second aircraft is already undergoing conversion in the production hangar, EFW said. The rest of the planes are expected to be delivered in 2024 and 2025.

Ameco is the largest provider of maintenance and overhaul services for aircraft in China. It signed a partnership agreement in November 2022 to install EFW-designed conversion kits at its facility in Chengdu.

The A330-200 converted freighter has a gross payload of 61 tons at a maximum range of 4,200 nautical miles. It is more suited for heavier, general cargo while the -300 is the preferred choice for lighter e-commerce shipments because of its extra volume. 

EFW has set up new conversion sites in China, Turkey and the U.S. to meet rising demand for cargo reconfigurations. Conversion facilities were swamped with orders for the past three years, but airline and lessor interest has slowed to a trickle this year because of the prolonged downturn in air cargo shipping. 

Sichuan Airlines last summer became the first Chinese airline to operate an A330 converted freighter after it was converted in Shanghai by another airframe modification specialist on EFW’s behalf. 

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

Sichuan Airlines accepts 1st A330 converted in China for cargo

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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 and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. 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]