China’s freighter conversion business limps along

Prior to the economic crisis, there was a great deal of hype when the first passengerto- freighter aircraft conversions were completed in China, and the rapid air cargo growth fuelled expectations that this industry was about to boom. From airlines to conversion experts like Boeing, Pemco, Haeco and its subsidiaries were all elated, but today, no one wants to talk about the business. By Wong Joon San.

China nascent narrowbody conversion companies – like their US and European counterparts – were hit hard. But as the industry recovers and as more airlines take delivery of their A380s and Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 reaches customers by the end of 2010, more airframes are expected to become available for passenger to freighter conversions over the next few years.

Xiamen-based Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering Company Limited (TAECO), based in Xiamen, sister company of Hong Kong-based Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company Limited (HAECO), and another sister company, Taikoo (Shandong) Aircraft Engineering Company limited (STAECO) based in Jinan, which are market leaders in freighter conversions in China, declined comment about the business.

Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Company, Ltd. (GAMECO), another MRO facility operate in Guangzhou, successfully completed the first A300-600 passenger-to-freighter conversation outside Europe in February2009, but it also declined to comment.

Conversion orders
While most airlines kept their conversion plans on the sidelines during the global recession, Hainan Airlines, a subsidiary of HNA Group, placed orders to convert six B737-300 passenger aircraft to freighter configuration last year. The deal was made public on 2 February 2010 with Hainan Airlines announcing that it had struck an agreement with STAECO and Pemco World Air Services, Inc., to carry out the conversions.