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SmartLynx to convert, operate 6 more A321 freighters in Europe

Latvian carrier rapidly building cargo capability with Airbus fleet

SmartLynx Cargo is increasing the size of its A321 passenger-to-freighter fleet. (Photo: SmartLynx Airlines)

(Editor’s Note: This story was changed due to new information provided by EFW and ST Engineering.)

Latvian contract carrier SmartLynx Airlines is adding six Airbus A321 converted freighters, bringing the total number of the aircraft type in its fleet to 14 in 2023. Company officials say they want to be the largest operator of the new freighter, which is gaining popularity as a highly capable, fuel efficient asset for short-haul and regional express services.

Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW), a partnership between Airbus and Singapore’s ST Engineering, announced Wednesday it will structurally modify the narrowbody passenger jets for SmartLynx so they can carry containers and pallets on the main deck. The aerospace manufacturer introduced the new freighter 18 months ago.

The purchase is unusual in that SmartLynx, a mid-tier carrier which also provides charter passenger services, is directly sourcing the aircraft rather than obtaining them from a leasing company.

SmartLynx will fly the new cohort of A321s under contract for an undisclosed customer in Europe, EFW said. The carrier received two of the cargo jets last year, including one modified by EFW, and is operating them now under the DHL Aviation umbrella. 

SmartLynx has previously said it expects to take delivery of two more A321 passenger-to-freighter aircraft in the first quarter. The planes are being leased from Cross Ocean Partners, a Greenwich, Connecticut, investment management firm, after reconstruction by 321 Precision Conversions in Florida. SmartLynx has mentioned another four aircraft are in the conversion pipeline, but has not provided details.

EFW said ST Engineering will convert the half-dozen A321s for SmartLynx in 2022 and 2023 at its facility in Singapore and a new one in China.

The A321 is taking on the Boeing 737-800 in the small jet freighter segment and as a replacement for aging Boeing 757 freighters. Logistics and air cargo professionals like the plane’s ability to carry smaller containers on the lower deck, a feature that is unavailable on the Boeing plane. In addition to more useable volume, the ability to carry containers on both decks improves interlining capability and turnaround times, as well as flexibility. The A321 aircraft allows to carry live animals, cars, aircraft engines and other cargo that was previously transported only via widebody aircraft.

The A321 also has weight advantages in certain configurations. Compared to the 757 it has lower operational costs and burns 20% less fuel. 

Heavy-duty conversions involve removing the cabin interior – seats, galley, bins – covering windows, reinforcing the floor and fuselage, and adding a rigid barrier to protect the cockpit, as well as a wide cargo door and cargo handling system.

EFW claims its relationship with the original equipment manufacturer offers customers better quality control and lifecycle maintenance than independent providers.

In addition to the A321 fleet, SmartLynx last year stripped out seats from five Airbus A330 widebodies and is operating them as cabin freighters with light-density boxes. 

EFW has recently added A321 assembly lines in the U.S. and China to help fill production orders.

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]