Orders for passenger to freighter conversions of Airbus A330s and A321s are piling up at ST Engineering and its subsidiary, Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW). The sad story is that they can only be processed at a snail's pace. Why? Because there is a shortage of components, and suppliers are not keeping up with contractually promised deliveries of aircraft parts. There is little hope that this will change for the better soon.
The order books of the Singaporean-German group are filled to the brim, but production is not keeping up with demand. A bizarre situation and unique in the history of both companies. Originally,
14 A330s were scheduled to be converted from passenger to cargo aircraft at EFW’s Dresden plant this year. Yet, the reality looks bleak: “We will hardly manage more than eight P2F conversions
by the end of 2022,” says Wolfgang Schmidt.
Aircraft converters are hit by grave supply chain disruptions
As VP Sales, Marketing & Customer Support, Airbus Freighter Conversions & MRO at EFW, he ought to know best. The reason for his pessimistic forecast is that there are simply too few components to work off the orders. The executive delivers a striking example: “We purchase rivets from a contractual supplier. But he can't deliver the next batch until – believe it or not – September 2023.”
So, ST Engineering and EFW will have to wait almost a year for the next delivery. Until then, however, P2F conversions cannot stop just because rivets are missing. Yet, switching to other suppliers is extremely difficult and faces many administrative obstacles. Understandable, because due to security reasons in aircraft manufacturing, every component, whether it is a bolt, nut, rivet, or cable, must come from a certified supplier which is liable for its products. “And certifications take an awful lot of time,” Mr. Schmidt knows from experience.
The lack of components and aircraft parts is a “total disaster,” he says. It causes grave production delays. The extent of the deficiencies is illustrated by this figure: 11,000. That is the average number of parts needed for P2F conversions. Since all components are meticulously documented, aircraft are the most transparent means of public transport ever built.
How ST Engineering and EFW can overcome the persistent shortage of components is an open question. Material pooling with MRO providers such as Lufthansa Technik, Singapore Airlines Engineering, for instance, might be one option to easy the squeeze. Another is the outsourcing of work packages to external providers. As was done on Friday (07OCT22), when EFW and Turkish Technic (TKT) signed an accord, enabling TKT to become the first MRO company to provide third-party conversion solutions for EFW’s A330P2F program.
“We have a growing P2F order book which mirrors a strong market demand for Airbus freighter conversions, with the A330P2F program being increasingly considered as the preferred next-generation platform in the medium to widebody category,” states Jordi Boto, CEO of EFW. “Through our collaboration with Turkish Technic, which has deep experience in maintaining Airbus aircraft, we will ensure meeting our customer commitments in a robust manner.”
According to information obtained by CargoForwarder Global, the combined P2F order book of ST Engineering and EFW comprises almost 200 aircraft: more than 90 A321P2Fs and 100+ for the larger A330 variant. Manager Schmidt speaks of “huge backlogs” his company is facing.
After all, in addition to Dresden and Singapore, subsidiaries based in China and the USA, are also involved in conversion projects. This increases the chances of gradually reducing the backlog. However, in Mobile, Alabama, only one conversion has taken place so far. And Turkish Technic speaks of Q3, 2023, before the first A330P2F converted jetliner will roll out of its production shop at Istanbul Airport.
More third-party providers might join the club
It can be expected that similar to Turkish Technic, more external converters might step in, joining ST Engineering and EFW’s bandwagon.
The statement of Prof. Ahmet Bolat, Turkish Technic Chairman of the Board, delivered during the signing ceremony might motivate them. When asked about the new industrial partnership between TKT and EFW, the executive said: “We are happy to cooperate with EFW in their A330P2F program. Passenger-to-freighter conversions require a combination of industry-leading expertise, structural skills, and operational excellence. With extensive know-how and close collaboration with suppliers, we are always well equipped to provide technical services and solutions for our customers. We look forward to expanding our partnership further with EFW.”
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