Air cargo demand has grown sharply in recent years as a result of increased online e-commerce. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend, but with the reduction of passenger flights that carry cargo, the gap between supply and demand for cargo aircraft has been highlighted. This has resulted in the focus of using passenger aircraft for cargo to keep the aircraft operational and to generate revenues.
Temporary measures have been to use passenger aircraft to fly parcels in their cabin and cargo hold. These aircraft are modified for temporary cargo use, by removing cabin seats to maximize cargo carrying capacity. These modifications enable airlines to easily reverse the changes and return the aircraft back to the passenger configuration, when demand for passenger flights rises.
There are also options to permanently convert passenger aircraft to cargo aircraft. These options include: structural changes, strengthening of floor beams, opening large loading door on the side of aircraft, and installing cargo handling systems. These changes enable doubling and in some cases tripling the load capacity (weight and volume), while providing fast and efficient ground operations for loading and unloading cargo. As these changes are irreversible, they are typically performed on aircraft that are being phased out of passenger services.
Over the past thirty years, IAI has developed unique capabilities and become a world leader in passenger to freight conversions. These conversions have accumulated proven performance of hundreds of successful conversions and millions of operational flight hours. IAI is certified to perform conversions of the Boeing 737, 747, 767 and we are currently developing the conversion package for the Boeing 777. With these conversion packages IAI has the flexibility to respond to market demand and feedstock availability.
Currently, cargo conversions of the Boeing 767-300 and are in the most demand, and IAI is the world leader for these conversions. The conversion of the Boeing 777-300 is also unique to IAI, and was performed with GECAS as a Strategic Partner. To meet the growing demand, IAI has ramped up production at three sites: in Israel, Mexico, and China and we have the capability of delivering dozens of aircraft. New conversion sites are planned in 2021 to further increase capacity in locations around the world to support specific customer demand.
Cargo conversions of large passenger aircraft such as the Boeing 767-300 takes about four months. All the work is performed under IAI’s engineering supervision and includes heavy maintenance and C checks, parts replacement, and the installation of a large side cargo door.
The growth in air cargo demand is more predictable, and less susceptible to sudden changes, such as COVID-19. With feedstock of newer grounded aircraft, the market demand becomes an opportunity. By converting grounded passenger aircraft to cargo configurations, airlines and leasing companies have the flexibility to allocate part of their assets to cargo operations, yielding potential long-term revenues and profits.
VP & General Manager Conversions & Upgrades
IAI Aviation Group