Two Chinese carriers have committed to lease Airbus A330 converted freighters that will be produced in China by aerospace manufacturer Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW), a joint venture between Airbus and Singapore’s ST Engineering.
CDB Aviation, the Irish subsidiary of China Development Bank, on Tuesday announced the order of 12 additional A330 passenger-to-freighter conversions from EFW. It said it will lease two retrofitted A330-300s to Chengdu-based Sichuan Airlines and one to Jiangxi Cargo Airlines to help them meet rising demand for airfreight transport.
Sichuan Airlines currently operates three A330-200 pure purpose-built freighters. EFW and CDB are expected to deliver the reconfigured aircraft in late 2022 and the middle of 2023. The lease marks the first time Sichuan Airlines will operate an A330-300 converted freighter.
Jiangxi Cargo Airlines is a Nanchang-based startup created through a joint venture between the Jiangxi provincial government and privately held Hongyuan Group. It is taking the slightly smaller A330-200 for delivery early next year.
The A330 is CDB Aviation’s first foray into the air cargo space, which is increasingly attracting investors because of the strong growth trends for general cargo and e-commerce shipments and recognition that traditional ride-along capacity in passenger fleets is becoming increasingly less reliable for shippers.
CDB Aviation’s first two A330 passenger-to-freighter units are currently being converted at EFW’s facility in Dresden, Germany, and will be redelivered to its launch operator, MasAir, in the first half of 2022.
The Mexico-based all-cargo operator recently took delivery of its first A330-200 remodeled by EFW and on lease from Altavair and has another one due.
The A330 is a medium-size widebody aircraft that competes with the Boeing 767 in the cargo space. Interest in the converted freighter was light — EFW had only a dozen makeovers as of mid-2021— because the passenger aircraft is still relatively young. That is quickly changing with more used aircraft available, and at lower prices, as passenger airlines modernize or shrink their fleets to reduce expenses during pandemic hardship.
Israel Aerospace Industries last year launched an A330 conversion program in response to the new market dynamics.
EFW CEO Andreas Speri said the company now has more than 80 slots reserved for the A330. The company is increasing its conversion capacity to be able to finish about 30 A330 conversions per year, as well as 30 for the new A320/A321 narrowbody freighter by 2024.
CDB Aviation will be the first customer to induct planes into EFW’s new A330 conversion lines in Shanghai and Mobile, Alabama. Both facilities are operated by ST Engineering.