T.C. – The conversion design is based on the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) process, like it was for the previous generation A300/A310P2F and the current A330P2F. I would regard the main “new design feature” in the A321P2F to be the very foremost positioning of a rigid cargo barrier and the creation of an extended flight deck (cockpit and courier area combined) which allows the maximum volumetric use of the main deck.
T.C. – The strength of the A321 is clearly its capability to accommodate fully containerised cargo on both decks – a game-changer in this freighter size segment, and something which is not available on competing freighter platforms up to the B757. We also highlight the A320 Family’s unique cargo “belly” hold (ie lower deck) which allows for mixed-fleet operation and interlining between Airbus single-aisle passenger aircraft and freighters, which is a significant operational and commercial advantage for airlines.
High containerised cargo volume
The A321P2F offers around 55 percent more containerised volume compared to other current generation freighters on the market. This is thanks to its 14 full size 88inch x 125inch main deck positions plus another 10 lower deck “AKH” container positions. We are convinced that the significant benefits of operating containers in the bellies of Airbus A321P2Fs will enhance the quality of service, especially since containers provide protection for sensitive goods under all environmental conditions – such as rain, snow and heat. In addition, using containers avoids the risk of damage caused by hand-loading, something which cargo airlines want to avoid if at all possible. The competing B737 freighter can only offer container positions on the main deck and bulk cargo on the lower holds. Furthermore, access to the B737’s lower-hold is constrained due to its smaller and inwards-opening doors.
Space-efficient door configuration
To accommodate 14 full container positions on the main deck we slightly extended the cargo compartment closer to the cockpit. To achieve this, EFW deleted the “Doors 1” L/R at the front of the fuselage. This allows us to locate the rigid cargo barrier at this position. Furthermore, in place of the original doors, we created a new Crew Entry Door (CED) which saves weight and is ‘fit-to-purpose’ at the former lavatory position. In turn, the new lavatory is located on the right-hand side. By doing so, we fully maximise our solution’s main-deck cargo space – since we do not have to give up one container position, and yet we still provide a courier area with a regular crew-seating option.
Balanced centre of gravity for loading flexibility and fuel efficiency
Our P2F solution also offers a well-balanced centre of gravity (CG) allowing for optimised cruise fuel efficiency with a maximum coverage of ‘random loading’ cases within the given flight envelope. Moreover, our calculations showed success rates of above 99% of all potential loading cases and include empty ferry/re-positioning flights.
Flexible cargo-loading system (CLS)
The Ancra-produced CLS chosen by EFW for the A321/A320P2F can support industry standard “Unit Load Device” (ULD) containers other than the 88inch x 125inch containers on option – such as the 96inch x125inch containers. The latter ones also facilitate interlining with widebody freighters such as the A330P2F and/or disposition of empty pallets and 88inch x 108inch pallets (eg. for interlining with smaller freighters such as the BAE146/AvroRJ).
T.C. – In principle all A321s can be converted to freighters. In order to avoid additional cost, the airframes sourced by the customers should ideally be the upper Type-Certified “Weight Variants” (WV) and be equipped with the most recent avionics hardware and software. If this is not the case upgrades can be installed which can be coordinated with Airbus’ and EFW’s respective upgrade services teams. Also, conversion candidates with a lower deck Cargo Loading System (CLS) already installed may be a good baseline to avoid extra spending. However, in the end the feedstock selection depends on the ‘ramp price’ after conversion, so each business case is individual. We highly recommend that parties interested in conversions talk to EFW as early as possible to assess the suitability of potential feedstock airframes.
T.C. – The Weight Variants (WV) have an impact on the performance of freighters as they do on the passenger aircraft, because they determine the payload-range characteristic of the converted freighters in general. While the P2F process itself does not require any WV change, WV upgrades/downgrades can be performed on customers’ request if a particular feedstock airframe has that WV option. In such cases upgrade requests are closely coordinated with EFW’s and Airbus’ Upgrade Services teams, with EFW acting as the MRO to install any required Service Bulletin (SB) kits as part of its additional services for the customer.
T.C. – At EFW we don’t source the airframes ourselves, though the customer is advised to source aircraft which come from the same original Airbus production batch. Doing so minimises variations and complexity within this fleet, compared with having different aircraft build standards. Nevertheless, there can still be some unavoidable differences between candidate feedstock aircraft, for example if the new P2F fleet is being created from six A321s purchased from airline X and four A321s purchased from airline Y – which will likely comprise aircraft originally from different production batches. In short, WV standardisation can be part of specific agreements with customers if conversion feedstock is acquired from multiple sources.
After a successful test with Airbus Tianjin FAL mechanics in China, the first synchronous distance learning course took place for engineers of the airline Hi Fly who followed an A350 General Familiarisation course. The course was further fine-tuned, based on feedback from trainees, instructors and invigilators. One-week Type Training approved courses such as A320 difference courses, but also recurrent training and structure courses, have since been deployed.
The solution was audited and approved by the French OSAC, the UAE GCAA and the Chinese CAAC with feedback highlighting the quality of the solution and of the instruction.
Customers appreciated the fast adaptation to this new context and a maintenance training solution which met their expectations. Having examination sessions at the end of the training courses and training certificates delivered in sequence was another benefit. This generates significant time and effort saving for trainees, but also cost savings as there is no need to organise examinations at the end of a lockdown and travel restriction period.
Door cut-out and installation of new door-surround
T.C. – We recommend that customers assign heavy checks to the modification site (ST Engineering and EFW) in conjunction with the P2F conversion. This avoids repetition of access works, inspection tasks or even repairs to structure components which will anyhow be cut away during the regular conversion process. In the vast majority of conversions, such heavy maintenance activities can be performed without having an impact on the normal conversion layover if they are carefully planned in advance and if there are no major findings. With this in mind, most of our customers are electing that we at EFW and ST Engineering perform heavy maintenance checks in parallel to the freighter conversion process.
G.B. – The passenger-to-freighter solutions are based on Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs), so we have fixed standard services which come along with it. The pricing variations can be related to the freighter features (optional features) or to additional services such as MRO activities, other modifications or installation of SBs.
Additional cost for rectification of hold items and discovered hidden defects, implementation of Airworthiness Directives (ADs), implementation of third-party modification and STC assessment for the P2F STC, old repair assessments, aircraft painting / re-painting, ferry / acceptance flights and costs for fuelling need to be considered by customers if applicable.
G.B. – We have a standard P2F kit that fits at say 90% of the final scope. For the remaining proportion each individual aircraft (eg. MSN no.) requires aircraft-specific adaptations to the standard design. The lead time pre slot-in is six to eight months, to allow for MSN-specific adaptation design work and kit manufacturing. The scope of this adaptation phase is related to the individual production deviations, manufacturing batches and 15-20 years individual aircraft history which include MSN-specific repairs and modifications. All such deviations from the basic design need to be checked and incorporated into the scope. That is why we request all relevant documentation and data access from our customers well in advance to each slot-in.
T.C. – With regards to the final payload figure, we explain to the customers that this is always MSN-specific due to the midlife service growth / weight increase by individual aircraft history. Therefore we can provide indicative payload information only and ‘up to’ values which will become final only after the re-delivery weighing. Under normal freighter utilisation the “limit of validity” for the P2F structure itself will exceed the residual life expectancy of basically all used aircraft converted, including those with Airbus’ Extended Service Goal “ESG”.
G.B. – For in-service support, it is essential for us to be closely aligned with Airbus’ Customer Support organisation. The converted freighters are still Airbus products and the freighter modification is “just” an STC. Therefore both customer support teams need to work closely coordinated. Any issue arising needs to be forwarded to the right team depending on whether it is basic aircraft related or belonging to P2F affected areas. EFW has its own AOG service 24/7. P2F related spares supply and unplanned repairs will be handled by EFW.
T.C. – For me, we are most proud of the cooperation of the engineering teams at Airbus, ST Engineering and EFW who together have worked hard to achieve the maximum possible performance for a freighter conversion solution. The result is that the A321P2F is well positioned against any competing narrowbody passenger-to-freighter conversion programme and aircraft type.