Boeing on Wednesday signaled its intention to further expand its 737-800BCF cargo conversion capacity by contracting with Costa Rican MRO provider Cooperativa Autogestionaria de Servicios Aeroindustriales (Coopesa) to add two new lines in the city of Alajuela. Plans call for the opening of the first 737-800BCF conversion line outside China in early 2022 and the second later that year.
Boeing forecasts a need for 1,500 freighter conversions over the next 20 years to meet growing demand, which has been reinforced by a shortage of belly capacity in passenger airliners since the onset of Covid 19. Of those, standard-body conversions will account for 1,080, some 30 percent of which will go to customers in North America and Latin America, Boeing estimates.
The company now converts 737-800 passenger airplanes to freighters at three locations: Boeing Shanghai Aviation Services (BSAS) in Shanghai; Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Company (Gameco) in Guangzhou, China; and Taikoo (Shandong) Aircraft Engineering Company (Staeco) in Jinan, China.
Boeing has secured orders for more than 180 737-800BCFs from 15 customers on four continents. In March, it re-delivered the 50th 737-800BCF since the model entered service in 2018.
Data released last month by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed that air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-Covid levels, increasing by 4.4 percent in March 2021 over March 2019. In fact, March demand reached the highest level recorded since the series began in 1990.
Meanwhile, global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), continued to recover in March, up 5.6 percent compared with the previous month. Nevertheless, capacity remained 11.7 percent below March 2019 levels due to the ongoing grounding of passenger aircraft. Airlines continue to use dedicated freighters to compensate for the lack of available belly capacity. International capacity from dedicated freighters rose 20.6 percent in March 2021 compared with the same month in 2019 and belly-cargo capacity dropped by 38.4 percent.