Boeing Co. on Tuesday announced it will add production lines in China to expand capacity for converting 767-300 passenger planes to freighters to help meet strong demand from cargo airlines and express delivery operators.
Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering (GAMECO) signed an agreement to open two new conversion lines for the 767 next year.
The Boeing 767 converted freighter is a midsize widebody aircraft popular with express carriers for regional and medium-haul international flights because of its versatility and lower operating cost compared to other aircraft in its age class. It also has a high degree of commonality with the Boeing production version in terms of loading, maintenance and ground support equipment. And since the two planes have the same type of operating certificate, they can share the same pool of pilots, simplifying scheduling.
GAMECO, a joint venture between China Southern Airlines Co. and Hutchison Whampoa (China) Ltd. from Hong Kong, is currently licensed by Boeing to install its conversion kits for the 737-900 narrowbody aircraft. Earlier this year, the aircraft maintenance company announced plans to add a third 737-800 production line.
Boeing (NYSE: BA) also has conversion lines for the 767-300 converted freighter at ST Engineering’s facility in Singapore.
Israel Aircraft Industries is a major producer of 767 conversions but has its own design and is not part of Boeing’s program.
“GAMECO has demonstrated excellent execution on the 737-800BCF program. We know it will bring the same expertise and proven capability to help deliver our medium widebody freighter conversions to our global customers,” Peter Gao, vice president of Boeing commercial sales and marketing for China, said in a statement.
Boeing forecasts 1,720 freighter conversions will be needed over the next 20 years. Of those, 520 will be widebody conversions, with Asia carriers accounting for more than 40% of that demand. The 767-300 converted freighter has more than 95 orders and commitments. LATAM Airlines this year placed orders to have 10 of its own aircraft converted during the next three years.
Air cargo operators are thirsty for more aircraft because of the spike in shipping volumes since the pandemic and the reduction of passenger flights, which also carry freight and mail. Analysts project air cargo to grow at a compound annual rate of 4% to 6%. E-commerce, which grew 44% to $4.2 trillion in the U.S. last year and 28% globally, is providing a major tailwind for air cargo growth and the need for more aircraft. E-commerce represents less than a fifth of total air cargo volume, but that number is expected to rapidly increase, according to the International Air Transport Association.
The 767-300 has a payload of 51.6 metric tons.