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Amazon, FedEx air partner ASL orders 737-800 converted freighters

Boeing has expanded passenger-to-freighter conversion program to meet increased demand

ASL Airlines operates Boeing 737-400 freighters, but is adding the more modern 737-800 variant to its fleet. (Photo: ASL Aviation)

ASL Aviation Holdings, a provider of outsourced air transport based in Dublin, on Tuesday exercised options for Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) to convert 10 more 737-800 aircraft to freighter configuration for its growing cargo business. Its customers include Amazon Air (NASDAQ: AMZN), FedEx Express (NYSE: FDX), DHL Aviation and UPS (NYSE: UPS). 

The 737-800 converted freighter is primarily used to carry express cargo on domestic or short-haul routes. Air leasing companies and operators have shown increased interest in the plane since last year as e-commerce sales skyrocket and put greater demand on parcel carriers’ existing infrastructure.

ASL originally ordered 10 converted freighters from Boeing in June 2019, the first of which was delivered and entered service last month with subsidiary ASL Airlines France.  The second aircraft will be accepted by ASL’s joint-venture airline, K-Mile Asia, this month and is expected to enter service in early April from its base at Bangkok airport.

Four aircraft are currently under conversion and two more are scheduled for retrofits in the coming weeks, ASL said.

The group has three other European airlines, an associate airline that operates cargo and budget, domestic passenger airlines in South Africa, and maintenance facilities in Belgium and various leasing entities. In 2020 ASL airlines transported 810,000 metric tons of cargo globally on flights sold by its customers and ASL’s own scheduled flights.

The 737-800BCF aircraft will be operated mainly by ASL’s European airlines on behalf of integrated express carriers.

“The performance and reliability of the 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighter make it the perfect fit for our combined fleet renewal and growth programmes and so we have moved to confirm our 10 options earlier than planned,” said ASL Aviation Chief Executive Dave Andrew.

“The aircraft offers an excellent option for our express cargo customers as they develop their networks to meet demand in the years ahead. It is ‘right-sized’ in payload and range and offers the improved carbon efficiency that ASL and our customers see as an essential element in fleet planning as we aim for future carbon neutrality,” he added in a statement.

The 737-800 converted freighter is up to 15% more fuel-efficient and produces fewer carbon emissions than the 737-400. It can carry up to 52,800 pounds and fly up to 2,025 nautical miles.

Boeing 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, with work done by licensed partners in China and Israel.

Chinese maintenance-and-repair organization Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Co. Ltd. (GAMECO), one of Boeing’s partners, on Feb. 9 announced a third conversion line for the B737-800 at its Guangzhou facility. 

In January, 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.

In August, GE Capital Aviation Services agreed to purchase up to 20 converted 737-800 aircraft through Boeing.

Earlier this month, Miami-based Aeronautical Engineering Inc. won a contract from Aero Capital Solutions to convert 10 B737-800s. It also agreed in January to provide another leasing company with a freighter conversion.

New competition in the narrowbody freighter segment is coming from Airbus and its A321 converted freighter. 

According to the most recent Boeing Commercial Market Outlook, 2,430 freighters will enter the global fleet over the next 20 years to meet market demand, including 1,080 standard-body passenger-to-freighter conversions. Asia will account for approximately 40% of the standard body freighter market demand.

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 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, Eric 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. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]