Boeing is planning to expand its 737-800BCF conversion lines.

Boeing is planning to expand its 737-800BCF conversion lines.

Boeing announced on Wednesday that it has contracted with Costa Rican MRO provider Cooperativa Autogestionaria de Servicios Aeroindustriales (COOPESA) to add two new lines to its 737-800BCF cargo conversion capacity in Alajuela. The first 737-800BCF conversion line outside of China is expected to open in early 2022, followed by the second later that year.

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Boeing estimates that 1,500 freighter conversions will be needed over the next 20 years to meet rising demand, which has been exacerbated by a lack of belly capacity in passenger planes since Covid 19. Boeing reports that 1,080 of those would be standard-body conversions, with 30 percent going to customers in North America and Latin America.

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, are now converting 737-800 passenger planes to freighters.

More than 180 737-800BCFs have been ordered by 15 customers across four continents. It re-delivered the 50th 737-800BCF in March, after the model was introduced in 2018.

Air cargo demand continued to outperform pre-Covid levels in March 2021, according to data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) last month, rising by 4.4 percent over March 2019. In reality, demand in March was at its highest level since the series began in 1990.

Meanwhile, global capability, as measured by usable cargo tonne-kilometers (ACTKs), improved by 5.6 percent in March compared to the previous month. Despite this, due to the continuing grounding of passenger aircraft, capacity remained 11.7 percent below March 2019 levels. To compensate for the lack of sufficient belly space, airlines continue to use dedicated freighters. In March 2021, dedicated freighter capacity increased by 20.6 percent over the same month in 2019, while belly-cargo capacity decreased by 38.4 percent.

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