Startup manufacturer Mammoth Freighters LLC on Wednesday announced a joint venture with GDC Technics, a major widebody maintenance and overhaul organization based at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas, to support its fledgling program for converting Boeing 777 passenger aircraft to freighters.
The investment in an aerospace company gives Mammoth immediate access to production capacity at a time when conversion shops around the world are booked up for months and years because of the escalating demand for all-cargo aircraft.
Mammoth has quickly become a serious player in the conversion market because of backing by New York-based private equity company Fortress Investment Group, which funded the GDC deal and also enabled Mammoth to purchase 10 777-200 Long Range aircraft from Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL). Delta retired its 777 fleet last year.
The engineering house will also retrofit 777-300s to cargo configurations. Mammoth has a unique, hybrid business model that allows asset owners to deliver their own aircraft for conversion or to lease ready-to-fly converted freighters from Mammoth’s existing feedstock. Most conversion outfits simply do conversions on behalf of leasing companies or aircraft operators that want to give their passenger aircraft a second life in the cargo sector.
GDC Technics operates in a former American Airlines maintenance facility with 840,000 square feet of space, six widebody hangar bays and overhead cranes for modification and maintenance work.
Mammoth, which is designing the structural modifications and working with regulators to certify the changes, will set up its offices at the GDC location, said Brian McCarthy, vice president of marketing and sales, in an interview earlier this month. GDC will do the actual metal cutting and modification using the Mammoth conversion kits.
“By partnering with GDC, our Mammoth 777-200LR and -300ER freighter conversions and support initiative will be centrally located in the U.S. in a facility designed specifically for 777-200/300 aircraft and with a skilled labor force in place,” Mammoth co-CEO Bill Tarpley said in a statement.
A typical production line is able to churn out about four aircraft per year. Mammoth initially plans to annually produce about a dozen freighters annually at GDC Technics.
The aircraft remodeler says it expects to obtain Federal Aviation Administration design approval for the 777-200 in the second half of 2023, after which it will submit an amended application for a 777-300 supplemental certificate for operating the aircraft type.
Overhauling a passenger plane so it can safely carry heavy cargo containers on the main deck requires extensive engineering design work. Actual production involves covering the windows; adding a wide cargo door in the fuselage; removing seats, overhead bins and lavatories; reinforcing the subfloor; and installing cargo-handling systems and roller floors for easy maneuvering of pallets and containers.
Mammoth publicly announced its new business earlier this month. It’ss outlook is strong because of a surplus in 777s created by passenger airlines downsizing and modernizing their fleets, which allows investors to buy used aircraft at a discount.
Air cargo capacity is down about 15% from pre-COVID times because of reductions in passenger flying, while cross-border demand for consumer and manufactured goods, pharmaceuticals, and food products continues to increase. Business interest in air shipping is being further driven by the relentless growth of e-commerce, which relies on aircraft for fast delivery. Cargo airlines and logistics companies are utilizing every available freighter they can, but growing the worldwide fleet is a slow process.
The only remaining production freighter is the 777 and Boeing (NYSE: BA) will stop making the planes later this decade because of rising international emissions standards. Most, if not all, of those slots are spoken for, with integrators like DHL Express and FedEx taking many of those deliveries.
Mammoth will be competing in the conversion market for 777s with Israel Aircraft Industries and GE Capital Aviation Services, which plan to deliver their first aircraft in 2023.
Boeing is also winding down production of the 747-8 freighter and no one is converting the four-engine jumbo jets for cargo anymore. Meanwhile, Boeing’s next-generation plane the 777X is still hung up in development and a potential freighter variant is still in doubt.
Airbus announced this year that it will develop a freighter version of its large A350, but it will be years before the plane is ready for commercial sale. Conversions of the Airbus A330-300 are beginning to pick up after a slow start.