A sprint is under way between Europe and the United States. While just two months ago the German company Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) announced a first contract with Luxembourg aircraft trading, leasing and MRO specialist Vallair to convert ten Airbus A321 passenger aircraft into freighter (P2F), it could be pipped at the post. On 9th April, in advance of MRO Americas, Avocet and 321 Precision Conversions unveiled the signature of an agreement to modify five aircraft, with work beginning in October 2017. The two American companies want to have their solution certified several months in advance.
"We're going to take twelve months to finish converting the aircraft from today", declares Edward Gray, the company's general manager and chief of operations, when questioned at MRO Americas. "The aircraft will be ready in April 2019". He also explained that the project was only revealed six months after work started as there were still many contractual discussions to be finalised with their partner.
Indeed, it was 321 Precision Conversions (a joint enterprise between Precision Aircraft Solutions and Air Transport Services Group, created in August 2017) which designed and engineered the project, named A321-200PCF. The company then signed a contract with Avocet to carry out the conversion, in its 5 100 m² facility at Orlando-Sanford international airport (Florida). The main task will be to modify the fuselage structure to integrate a large cargo door (3.6 x 2.2 m) and install a cargo reinforced floor.
Once the modifications are complete, Avocet will be in charge of the certification programme with the European (EASA) and American (FAA) authorities at the same time. Edward Gray thinks that it will take 90 days to get the supplemental type certificate (STC) for the A321-200PCF, despite the flight tests. He even hopes to be able to present the first modified aircraft during the next Paris Air Show at Le Bourget in June 2019.
This aircraft will be followed by four others, on which the customer is remaining tight-lipped for the moment. Edward Gray says that the conversion time should gradually get shorter. He is targeting 8 to 10 months for the second aircraft, 5 to 6 months for the one after that and between 90 and 100 days for the last two.
And Avocet's general manager and chief of operations is already looking every further ahead and is talking about a 5 to 10-year programme, given the 1 600 A321ceos currently in service. In particular, this will see an expansion of the company's facilities at Lakeland, also in Florida. Avocet will then be able to handle two to three planes at the same time. Edward Gray confirms that they have the support of Airbus to complete this project, in particular via its Satair subsidiary for spare parts.
The plane offers a freight volume of 215 to 224 m3 depending on configuration. It will then be able to carry up to 14 AAA containers (2.2 x 3.2 m) on the main deck and 10 LD3-45s in the hold, plus bulk freight. 321 Precision Conversions is announcing a total freight capacity of 27 tonnes over 2 000 nm (3 700 km), with performances decreasing rapidly beyond this.