ST Engineering, Airbus and their joint venture, Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) achieved a key milestone in their joint A321 passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion programme in September this year with the re-delivery of the ‘head of version’ to launch customer, Vallair. The A321 converted freighter, operated by Qantas for Australia Post, entered into service on 27 October 2020.
Both milestones marked the completion and birth of the world’s first A321 converted freighter. EFW had received the original Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the A321P2F from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in February this year, and the Validation STC from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in July. Operator specific enhancements were subsequently incorporated into the freighter and certified prior to its re-delivery.
Jeffrey Lam, president of ST Engineering’s Aerospace sector, said, “through our collaboration with the aircraft OEM, Airbus, we have been able to develop a high performance product and obtain the original STC from EASA within a week from completing the flight tests, all within schedule and while maintaining our high standards in safety and quality. The completion of our first A321P2F is timely, as the programme can help airlines breathe new life into under-utilised aircraft, which would otherwise suffer a harder landing in their residual value. With the A321P2F platform being the best-in-class for its size category – having 55 percent more volumetric capacity than its nearest competitor – we are confident that the programme will be a great success in the freighter market.”
Andreas Hermann, vice president of Asset Management at Airbus and member of the EFW shareholder committee said, “we are very pleased to see the A321P2F programme entering service. The Airbus A321 is the platform which, by design, will offer the best economics, cargo capacity and performance in the single-aisle freighter segment going forward. For any asset owner, this will provide an excellent opportunity to leverage future growth and replacement waves, underpinning the already great value proposition of the A321 today.”
“We are excited to welcome this newest member A321P2F, which is the result of a successful collaboration with ST Engineering and Airbus, into our suite of Airbus freighter conversions,” said Andreas Sperl, CEO of EFW. “Given the outstanding performance of this freighter, we are confident that the A321P2F will be a game changer in the freighter market.”
The A321P2F is the first in its size category to offer containerised loading in both the main (up to 14 full container positions) and lower deck (up to 10 container positions). With a generous payload-range capability that can carry above 28 metric tons (roughly 60,000 lbs) over 2,300 nautical miles, the A321P2F is the ideal narrowbody freighter aircraft for express domestic and regional operations. The conversion features a large main cargo door which is hydraulically actuated and electrically locked, a Class E cargo compartment with full rigid 9g barrier for optimal protection between crew and cargo, and a redefined flight deck that includes supernumerary seats and a new lavatory.
The collaboration between ST Engineering, Airbus and EFW is the only OEM solution for A321P2F in the market. EFW, which is leading the overall programme as well as marketing and sales efforts, has been seeing a keen interest in the solution, which is expected to further grow with the first A321P2F unit entering the market. To meet rising demand for dedicated freighter aircraft, ST Engineering and EFW are planning to set up additional modification sites in China, Germany and the US by 2023 to ramp up global conversion capacity to about 25 slots per year.