BBAM Aircraft Leasing & Management has signed with Boeing (NYSE: BA) to convert a dozen more of its 737-800 passenger aircraft into dedicated freighters as e-commerce and express cargo markets continue to create strong demand among carriers for all-cargo aircraft.

The San Francisco-based leasing firm currently has 31 firm orders and commitments for the 737-800 converted freighter. In January, the company placed an order for six conversions with an option for six more. 

BBAM will be the first customer to have a 737-800 converted at Cooperativa Autogestionaria de Servicios Aeroindustriales (COOPESA), a Costa Rica-based maintenance, repair and overhaul provider, the companies said Monday. In May, Boeing announced it would open two conversion lines at COOPESA in 2022.

“The Boeing converted freighter program is extending the life and enhancing the value of the 737-800s in our fleet,” said Steve Zissis, president and CEO of BBAM, in a statement. “We are growing our Boeing order book to meet the strong demand we see worldwide for narrowbody freighters.”

BBAM, which manages 526 Airbus and Boeing jets for investors and leases them to airline customers, also has converted two Airbus A321 single-aisle planes into freighters and has one more scheduled to be overhauled this year. It has four 737-800 freighters in service with customers, as well as two Boeing 767-300 freighters, according to its website.

Among its passenger-jet clients is Canadian carrier WestJet, which last month announced plans to launch a freighter division with four leased 737-800 aircraft. WestJet has not disclosed which company it has selected to provide the aircraft.

The A321 converted freighter is the new kid on the block in the short- to medium-haul segment, entering service for the first time last fall. The Boeing 737-800 conversion program is about 4 years old and Boeing says it has won more than 200 orders and commitments from 16 customers. Both aircraft are being pursued by express delivery companies and airline partners for regional routes because they are fuel efficient and the right size for filling frequent flights.

A third party, Aeronautical Engineering Inc. in Miami, has designed its own conversion kit independent of Boeing and converted a dozen 737-800s so far.

Conversions involve complex engineering and workmanship to ensure structural integrity and safety that will pass muster with regulators. Tasks include covering windows, reinforcing the floor in the main cabin to support large pallets, cutting in a large door, adding a rigid barrier to protect the cockpit from shifting loads, and installing a mechanical cargo-handling system.

Booking new conversions is taking longer because the limited number of engineering shops that do the work are very busy. 

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


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