Airbus A321s that have completed their operational service carrying passengers for airlines can soon have a second life as highly efficient freighters, converted through a programme involving ST Engineering and Airbus with their joint venture, Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW).

The prototype A321P2F (“Passenger-to-Freighter” conversion) aircraft recently performed its first flight after undergoing rework at ST Engineering’s facility in Singapore, with the modified configuration expected to receive its airworthiness authority supplemental type certificate (STC) in the first quarter of 2020 from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).  

A large cargo door for main-deck loading

Modifying an A321 from passenger to the P2F version involves integrating a large main deck cargo door in the forward fuselage, plugging the passenger windows and deactivating most passenger doors. The forwardmost left passenger door is replaced by a smaller one to optimise the number of cargo positions on the main deck. The cabin is refurbished, including the installation of a rigid barrier wall, and the floor is reinforced.

The A321P2F is a perfect replacement for the older generation of narrow-body freighters. With space for 14 large containers/pallets on the main deck and 10 LD3-type containers on the lower deck, it is the most cost-efficient freighter in its category available today. It also is more environmentally friendly through a much lower fuel burn and reduced emissions.

Within the joint venture, ST Engineering is responsible for the engineering development up to the STC issuance and the conversion kit supply. Airbus, as the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) provides technical data and certification support, development of on-board computers, airframe engineering, flight physics and flight test expertise. EFW will be the STC holder and leads the overall programme and commercialisation.

Service entry in the second half of 2020

Launch customer Vallair, a Luxembourg-based aircraft trading and leasing business, has ordered 10 conversions from EFW. Entry into service of the first A321P2F is targeted for the third quarter of this year with the Australian airline, Qantas Freight. A second customer is BBAM, an aircraft lease management company based in San Francisco, which has placed an order for two A321P2F conversions.

“We are very pleased to participate in the A321P2F programme, which is now taking off in the market,” said Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer. “The aircraft will be the most capable freighter in its class and also the most environmentally friendly. Our Global Market Forecast predicts that around 1,000 small freighter conversions will be required over the next 20 years to replace ageing fleets and cater for growth. This makes for a solid market potential for the A321P2F.“  

The A321 is the largest version of the most popular aircraft family ever: the Airbus A320 Family. More than 2,000 A321s have been delivered to airlines around the world.

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