Charter airline and leasing company AELF FlightService will move forward with a full conversion of a wide-body passenger aircraft to cargo configuration as plans to rapidly roll out partially modified light freighters remain on hold due to regulatory delays.

The Chicago-based company said Thursday it has reserved a production slot at Israel Aerospace Industries to upgrade one of its two Boeing 767-300 jetliners for main deck cargo operations, scheduled for delivery in June 2023. The contract includes an option to convert another aircraft later this year. The work will be carried out at IAI’s facility in Mexico.

AELF FlightService currently has a fleet of seven Airbus A330 aircraft, which are flown by subsidiary Maleth Aero on a contract basis for passenger airlines that require additional capacity. Executives want to use the steadily growing air cargo market for new opportunities.

Since last year, plans have been underway to convert 10 large Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft into package freighters by stripping out seats and other cabin components, a much faster and cheaper option than overhauling them to carry heavy containers. AELF is using an initial engineering firm for the transition package, but approval of the design by the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency has been delayed for several months.

This is particularly important because the temporary exemption during COVID that allowed AELF and other airlines to carry cargo in the cabin without permanent changes to the interior ended at the end of July. Limited modification would also allow the company to quickly enter the freight market while capacity was still low and rates high.

Unable to move forward with a limited freighter conversion, AELF retrofitted the seats and returned the A330 to passenger charter services for the busy summer flying season.

“We are very excited to expand our relationship with our partners at IAI and expand ours

trucking opportunities,” said Chief Operating Officer Joe Cirillo. “We have already committed to P2F [passenger-to-freighter] work and believe it is long-term viability. Adding full cargo aircraft to our fleet is a logical step that we believe complements our portfolio.”

“We are committed to offering a full range of wet and dry leasing solutions and the 767-300ER

the freighter expands our offering,” he added. (A wet service lease includes the aircraft along with crew and other services.)

AELF said it had not yet ordered a 767 freighter.

“We’ve seen a lot of market interest in operating leases, service leases and direct sales of aircraft, and we’re looking at all of them,” Cirillo said. “We expect to make a decision soon that will maximize the value and capabilities of the aircraft.”

Israel Aerospace Industries completed the conversion of its 100th 767-300 this summer, more than any other company, since launching the program more than a dozen years ago.

Bluebird Nordic is expanding

In related news, AviaAM Leasing has announced that it has delivered a converted Boeing 737-800 freighter to a subsidiary of Bluebird Nordic, an Icelandic cargo airline.

The narrow-body aircraft was overhauled in Jinan, China by program partner Boeing.

AviaAM previously leased two other converted 737-800 freighters from Bluebird Nordic, which also operates one 737-300 and seven 737-400 freighters.

AviaAm and Bluebird Nordic are part of the Avia Solutions Group. Avia Solutions has arranged the conversion of three 777-300 aircraft and plans to transfer them to Bluebird Nordic in early 2024. They will be the first wide-body cargo aircraft in the Bluebird fleet.

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



The charter airline will expand its cargo business through light cargo vessels

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