B737-800 conversions pick up as lessors bank on potential

ASL Aviation has exercised options to convert 10 737-800s for cargo operations, adding more capacity for its express integrator partners.

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Orders for 737-800 converted freighters are picking up as aircraft fleet operator ASL Aviation Holdings (ASL) exercised options to convert 10 of the aircraft for cargo use, following an original agreement with Boeing for 10 firm orders and 10 options at the Paris Air Show in June 2019.

ASL said the 737-800BCF aircraft will be operated mainly by its European airline partners and will be introduced to meet the requirements of its express integrator customers like DHL, Amazon and FedEx.

The aircraft leasing company it received its first 737-800 cargo conversion, which entered service last month with ASL Airlines France. The second aircraft will be delivered to its joint venture K-Mile Asia this month and is expected to enter service in early April from the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport. This will be the first 737-800BCF registered in Thailand, ASL noted, with two more due for induction in the coming weeks and four others undergoing conversion.

“The performance and reliability of the 737-800BCF make it the perfect fit for our combined fleet renewal and growth programmes and so we have moved to confirm our 10 options earlier than planned,” said ASL Aviation Holdings chief Dave Andrew, adding that the aircraft offers an excellent option for express cargo operators developing their networks to meet long-term demand.

Aircraft lessor BBAM in January announced another six firm orders and six options for the converted freighter as it looks to ride on the continued growth in the e-commerce and express cargo market.

Chinese maintenance-and-repair (MRO) company Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Co. Ltd. (GAMECO) is adding a third line for the 737-800BCF at its Guangzhou facility to ramp up its passenger-freighter conversion capabilities, less than a year after it began work on the BCF programme. In September last year, it opened the second BCF production line in Guangzhou, which is set to take its first 737 for conversion.

“Adding a third line gives us the opportunity to implement an innovative and scalable production concept for conversions. This concept will boost deliveries and improve further efficiency,” commented GM Norbert Marx.

Boeing says the 737-800BCF is meeting customer demand for a newer generation freighter that offers higher reliability and lower fuel consumption and operating costs per trip compared to other standard body freighters.

Used mainly on domestic and short-haul flights carrying express cargo, the aircraft is capable of carrying up to 23.9 tonnes and flying up to 3,750 kilometres. It is also 15 percent more fuel efficient and has produces lower CO2 emissions per tonne than the 737-400SF.

ASL Aviation’s chief is definitely sold on the freighter’s potential: “It is ‘right-sized’ in payload and range and offers the improved carbon efficiency that ASL and our customers see as an essential element in fleet planning as we aim for future carbon neutrality,” Andrew noted.

Payload Asia learned another aircraft lessor, Aero Capital Solutions, commissioned Miami-based Aeronautical Engineering earlier this month to convert 10 B737-800s, whilst GE Capital Aviation Services agreed in August last year to purchase up to 20 of the converted freighters through Boeing.

Conversions of 737-800s have been ongoing for more than three years. Boeing has had more than 140 orders for the -800, with work done by licensed partners in China and Israel, according to Freightwaves.

The aircraft manufacturer forecasts 2,430 freighters to enter the global fleet over the next 20 years, including 1,080 standard-body passenger-to-freighter conversions. Asia will account for approximately 40 percent of the standard body freighter market demand, it added.

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