SmartLynx To Begin Operating A321 Converted Freighters

The Airbus A321 isn’t well known for being a freighter. However, as of this year, there are A321s out there that have been converted into cargo jets from their original passenger configurations. A SmartLynx subsidiary is adding two newly converted A321-200 freighters to its fleet, capitalizing on the cargo market while passenger traffic remains low. The news was announced on October 15th.

News of this conversion program first surfaced in February 2020. Photo: SmartLynx

The first operator of the passenger-to-freighter A321

SmartLynx Malta announced on Thursday that it signed a lease contract with VALLAIR to add two newly converted A321-200 Freighters to its fleet. SmartLynx Malta is a subsidiary of the wet lease and charter provider SmartLynx Airlines.

SmartLynx Malta is set to be the first operator of the A321-200Fs. The jets were converted separately through two companies: One by 321 Precision Conversions and the other by Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW). In the SmartLynx press release it had the following to say about the two jets:

“Both are high-quality products, and despite minor differences in direct operational costs, the company decided to go with both STC’s to be able to offer its customer flexibility to compare and choose according to their requirements.”

The SmartLynx expansion strategy

Speaking on its two new additions, SmartLynx said that the move is just the first part of the company’s plan to get into the freighter market. Talks are ongoing for further aircraft, with a plan to reach 10 A321 converted-freighter units by 2023:

“We plan to add 8 more aircraft in the next 3 years, reaching 10 units by 2023, all AIRBUS type. When we were considering freighter models, we have looked into 737 Classics, 737NGs and A321s, but the clear choice was A321 firstly because of its favorable results in regards to CO2 emission compared to other models, and there is the advantage of a commodity with the rest of our fleet.”

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SmartLynx is planning to take more A321 conversions in the coming years. Photo: Airbus

Aircraft details

The two aircraft taken by SmartLynx are A321-200s with MSNs 891 and MSN 1017.

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According to Airfleets, MSN 891 is about 22 years old and has only flown with three carriers: Swissair, SWISS International Air Lines, and Air Mediterranee. Meanwhile, MSN 1017 is roughly the same age but has flown with many more airlines worldwide – going from operators in Cote d’Ivoire, Thailand, Indonesia, Luxembourg, and more.

A321 Air mediterranee
F-GYAR – 396011 – Air Mediterranee – Airbus A321-211 (0891) Photo: Mark Winterbourne via Wikimedia Commons 

Great timing to convert A321s to freighters

The decision by engineering firms to tackle an A321 passenger-to-freighter conversion couldn’t have come at a better time.

The first prototype A321P2F (“Passenger-to-Freighter” conversion) aircraft performed its first flight near the beginning of 2020 after undergoing refitting at ST Engineering’s facility in Singapore. It was only shortly thereafter that the passenger market plummeted due to current events.

Airbus A321 test
The A321neo and its long-range variants have superseded the A321-200. Photo: Getty Images

“Modifying an A321 from passenger to the P2F version involves integrating a large main deck cargo door in the forward fuselage, plugging the passenger windows and deactivating most passenger doors. The forwardmost left passenger door is replaced by a smaller one to optimise the number of cargo positions on the main deck. The cabin is refurbished, including the installation of a rigid barrier wall, and the floor is reinforced.” -Airbus

The A321P2F will have space for 14 large containers/pallets on the main deck and 10 LD3-type containers on the lower deck.

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According to Airbus’ February press release regarding these aircraft, entry into service of the first A321P2F is targeted for the third quarter of this year with the Australian airline, Qantas Freight. A second customer is BBAM, an aircraft lease management company based in San Francisco, which has placed an order for two A321P2F conversions.

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