Dresden. Russian and German engineers have begun work to convert the first Airbus A320 passenger aircraft into a freighter jet.
According to spokesperson Elena Fedorova of the Irkut Corporation, the fuselage of the first aircraft was delivered at the Airbus Freighter Conversion GmbH (AFC) facility here from Toulouse on October 10th, and that some 50 Russian engineers and their counterparts from EADS were working out the technologies required in this regard.
AFC is jointly owned by Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and Irkut Corporation (25 per % each), and Germany’s Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH (EFW – 32 %) and Airbus S.A.S. (18 %). Both the German entities are EADS subsidiaries.
Set up in 2007, EFW is already converting about 20 older Airbus A300/310 passenger jets a year for customers around the world, including the Emirates and Federal Express.
The conversion an Airbus 320, which has fly by wire controls, is being done for the first time though and the fuselage was ferried in an Airbus 300-600ST, known also as Beluga.
Ms Fedorova explained that during the conversion procedure, the passenger cabin is dismantled and a new reinforced floor and up/download equipment are installed. In order to simplify loading, a bigger cargo hatch is cut in the aircraft fuselage.
The conversion kits are delivered by the Irkut Corporation subsidiary, Irkutsk Aviation plant, which also produces a number of components for the A320. All major industrial processes including galvanizing, mechano-processing, heat treatment, and painting have been certified as per Airbus standards.
Within the framework of the P2F project, Irkut Corporation is responsible for the production, procurement, delivery and logistics regarding all kits necessary for the conversion. At the moment preparations for the construction of the conversion line in Zhukovskiy are under way in Moscow. The facilities in Zhukovskiy will be based on the proven EFW conversion line model with the possibility to use it as aircraft service centre in future.
The prototype conversion will be ready in 2011 and serial production is expected to begin by early 2012. By 2016 annual production is to reach nearly 40 aircraft at two assembly lines.
The A320/A321 Passenger to Freighter (P2F) converted aircraft is the only modern solution in the small freighter market segment and therefore the best feeder freighter aircraft for the growing express market worldwide. Payload varies from 21 to 28 metric tons and the aircraft’s range will be up to 2,100nm/3,700 km.
According to preliminary estimates the joint venture’s annual turnover is anticipated to reach US$ 200 million with the expected market demand of 400 aircraft by 2026.
On 16th July 2008 at Farnborough International air show Airbus Freighter Conversion GmbH (AFC) signed a firm contract with Netherlands-based leasing company AerCap to convert 30 of passenger A320/A321s into freighter aircraft.
It may be noted that AFC was set up in 1955 in the then East Germany to manufacture Ilyushin 14 series and other passenger aircraft. Later however, it was converted into a maintenance facility for Warsaw Pact nations’ Mig aircraft and Mil helicopters.
With the unification of Germany, and with German Government and industry support, the facility started maintenance, and then conversion,of Airbus A300/310 aircraft.
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