An Airbus A330-200 jet fully converted to cargo configuration will arrive in Mexico City within days as MasAir Cargo Airline begins to realize its ambitious expansion plan under new ownership structure and management.
The Mexican carrier, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2021, operates three Boeing 767-300 freighters. By the summer the medium widebody fleet will more than double with the expected arrival of three more A330s.
MasAir will be the first airline in the Americas to operate an Airbus passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft and the first in the world to operate two A330 variants.
Aviation leasing firm Altavair is leasing two A330-200s to MasAir, the first of which recently completed the conversion process at Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH (EFW), a joint venture between Airbus and Singapore-based ST Engineering based in Dresden, Germany. Altavair has ordered several more cargo reconfigurations for used A330-200 and -300 passenger aircraft, according to EFW.
The first plane off the production line is undergoing final technical acceptance and technical flights before being flown to MasAir’s base in Mexico City during the weekend or early next week, Commercial Director Alvaro Cortina said in an email message.
The company will spend about four to five weeks validating the A330-200 with Mexican aviation authorities, with the first commercial flight expected by early March, he said.
MasAir Cargo last year also announced it will lease two A330-300 converted freighters from CDB Aviation, with delivery planned for the first half of 2022.
To help integrate the new Airbus planes into the fleet, MasAir is investing more than $5 million in hiring and training crew and technical personnel, infrastructure, IT systems and support staff.
The new aircraft will support MasAir’s dedicated contract carriage business for customers such as DHL Express as well as scheduled flights for cargo owners and freight forwarders.
Last February, MasAir began scheduled service connecting Mexico City and Quito, Ecuador, with Frankfurt, Germany, for Senator International, a large freight broker that shipping giant Maersk recently agreed to acquire.
MasAir officials say they remain committed to the Boeing 767 freighter fleet. Each aircraft type will be used for different missions.
MasAir is the second 767 freighter operator to recently transition to a dual-aircraft strategy with the A330. Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ: ATSG) last year also began an initiative to acquire A330s and modify them for pure cargo operations. Airlines often prefer to stick with a single manufacturer for ease of training and maintenance, but the supply of used 767s available for conversion is gradually dwindling and carriers need another alternative to keep up with demand.
Discovery Americas, a Mexican private equity firm, became MasAir’s majority stakeholder in 2018 and is underwriting the company’s expansion project. As part of a digital transformation to support growth, the company in September joined the cargo.one airfreight marketplace in which customers can compare real-time rates and capacity and instantly book space for shipments. Access to a multiparty booking platform is expected to increase MasAir’s user base of freight forwarders.
The orders by MasAir and its leasing partners underscore the strong growth prospects in the air cargo sector, where capacity is extremely tight due to reduced passenger flying during COVID, e-commerce volumes are skyrocketing and conversion house production slots are committed for years forward.
The A330-200 offers a gross payload of up to 61 tons and a range of up to 4,200 nautical miles under optimal conditions, according to EFW specifications. As a more modern, fuel-efficient aircraft in the midsize segment, the -200 will enable MasAir to expand into new markets and fly longer routes.
The -300 variant is longer and well-suited to carry lighter e-commerce parcels because of its extra volume.
EFW has only converted about 13 A330s so far (nine -300 variants plus four -200s) because the aircraft is still relatively young. The company plans to set up new production sites for the A330 in China and the U.S. this year to bring production capacity to 30 aircraft per year. It also is scaling up capacity for the new A320/321 narrowbody conversion program.
More of the medium-size widebodies are available at reasonable prices now because cost-cutting passenger airlines, aligning fleets to lower travel demand and preferring newer planes that burn less fuel, are discarding many of them. There are about 500 A330s in storage, according to Leeham News.
Airbus stopped producing a factory-built A330 freighter when interest fizzled out after 40 deliveries. More than half those aircraft have already been sold by their original owners. But converting used aircraft is much more economical when aircraft values are low and aviation analysts say the A330 refurbished cargo jets will be in high demand.
“This investment reflects our belief that the A330 will be the premier freighter going forward in this segment,” said Paul Newrick, president and managing director of Altavair (U.K.), in an EFW news release.
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