Watch Now

Titan Airways to operate world’s second A321 converted freighter

Airbus joint venture EFW expands manufacturing capability for new program to China

An Airbus A321 takes off of from Singapore after being modified to handle cargo. The plane is in the paint scheme of Titan Airways, which will operate it. (Photo: ST Engineering)

Titan Airways last week received the first of three Airbus A321 converted passenger freighters ordered from an Airbus engineering affiliate. The U.K. charter airline is the second carrier to add the aircraft to its fleet since the plane began initial production last fall.

ST Engineering in Singapore carried out the modification. The aircraft was previously operated by Thomas Cook Airlines, which went under last year, according to Titan’s website.

The A321 enters the market at an opportune time. Demand for air cargo services is soaring amid a pandemic-induced capacity shortage and the feedstock of reasonably priced A321s has grown with airlines prematurely retiring many of the single-aisle aircraft to stay afloat financially after their main passenger business dried up last year. The new production aircraft is catching on with air cargo operators, especially express delivery companies, as an efficient regional alternative to the Boeing 737-800 because of its extra capacity, ability to carry containers in the lower hold and fuel efficiency.

Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW), a joint venture between Airbus and ST Engineering, announced last week the redelivery of the second completed A321 passenger-to-freighter conversion to BBAM Limited Partnership, which is leasing the aircraft to Titan. 

Qantas Freight began operating an A321 passenger-to-freighter conversion built by EFW in late October on behalf of Australia Post. 

BBAM has ordered several more units from EFW. Titan, which currently operates two Boeing 737-400 freighters, says it will eventually transition to an all-Airbus freighter fleet. 

“We are delighted to take delivery of our first A321P2F from BBAM and EFW,” said Alastair Willson, managing director of Titan Airways, in a statement. “The A321P2F will enable us to utilize all the benefits of this type into our airfreight activities, including best-in-class economics, reduced noise, a lower carbon footprint and real-time health monitoring, ensuring the highest levels of reliability.”

Another benefit of the A321 offering in a cargo configuration is that operators are getting a modern aircraft that is still in production, which will minimize issues getting necessary parts and supplies, according to companies involved in the program.

Conversion of passenger planes to cargo mode involves several structural changes besides seat removal, including the addition of a wide cargo door to allow for loading of pallets on the main deck, a rigid bulkhead to protect against shifting cargo, and a cargo-handling system for pulling containers through the hull.

The A321 converted freighter is the first in its size category to offer containerized loading in the belly hold. It has up to 10 container positions in addition to 14 full container positions on the main level. Boeing 737s, including the -800, can only fit loose cargo in the lower deck, which takes more manpower to load and unload.

The A321 has a gross payload of more than 61,000 pounds, which could increase in future conversions, according to EFW. Weight distribution software that comes with the aircraft gives operators the flexibility to fly empty or with random loads. 

Under the joint venture, Dresden, Germany-based EFW designs the program and markets the aircraft. ST Engineering, a large aerospace and defense group with 23,000 employees, does the manufacturing, with Airbus providing technical support. 

China Conversions

To meet the rising demand for the A321 passenger-to-freighter aircraft, EFW has established an additional conversion site at ST Engineering’s facility in Guangzhou, China, with plans to expand to the U.S. and Germany. The new facilities will increase its global conversion capacity to 25 slots per year by 2023. That is two more slots than it estimated in October when it first disclosed expansion beyond Singapore. 

Luxembourg-based aircraft trading and leasing company Vallair last month said ST Engineering has begun work on the first of nine planes scheduled to be converted in China. The converted freighter is scheduled to be completed in the third quarter for customer SmartLynx Airlines, in Riga, Latvia. The company’s Malta subsidiary signed a lease with Vallair for two A321-200 cargo planes and plans to add eight more of the aircraft by 2023.

Vallair also has a tentative deal to lease 10 converted A321 freighters to Miami-based start-up Global Crossing Airlines.

A321 Precision, a U.S. aviation engineering firm, has previously said it expects to get Federal Aviation Administration approval of its design modification for an A321 freighter early this year.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


A321 converted freighter debuts with Australia Post

Why the A321 converted freighter looks like a hot ticket

New A321 converted freighter passes first flight test in US

Airbus A321 embarks on second act in e-commerce

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 and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]