ST Engineering has on Monday announced that its commercial aerospace business has signed an agreement to lease up to five Airbus A320 Passenger-to-Freighter (P2F) aircraft to Vaayu Group (Vaayu) which is a leading UAE based aviation solutions player.

In line with this development, leading Nairobi-based all-cargo airline Astral Aviation will be the launch operator for the first two of the five A320P2F aircraft which will be sub-leased to them from Vaayu.

Incidentally, this is the world's first A320P2F aircraft by Elbe Flugzeugwerke, a joint venture of ST Engineering and Airbus that is currently in its certification phase and is expected to be ready for revenue service in the first half of 2022. This will also be the world's first A320P2F aircraft to go into operation. ST Engineering is also slated to convert and lease the remaining four freighter aircraft progressively.

"The upside of the pandemic was an increase of sales in the e-commerce space. For freighters and cargo handlers worldwide, this was unexpected. We saw this coming. We simply fast-tracked the process; from ideation to a reality," revealed Emad AlMonayea, Chairman and President, Vaayu Group.

Reacting to the development, Yip Heng Meng, EVP/Head of Aviation Asset Management at ST Engineering, said, "We are excited to welcome Vaayu as our first A320P2F lessee customer, and for Astral Aviation to be the first airline in the world to operate such a platform. As an aviation asset solution provider that is backed by other integrated lifecycle capabilities including freighter conversion and MRO, we are able to provide comprehensive solutions not offered by other service providers, and help operators gain a competitive edge."

Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO at Astral Aviation, said, "We are truly honoured to be the launch operator for the A320P2F which is also the first Airbus in Astral's fleet of 14 freighter aircraft. The Airbus range of freighter aircraft are impressive and will add immense value to Astral's fleet and network expansion, which will result in Astral considering future freighter aircraft acquisitions of the A320, A321, A330-300 and A350."

The A320P2F is one of the two variants – the other being the A321P2F - in the Airbus narrowbody P2F programme by ST Engineering, Airbus and their joint venture Elbe Flugzeugwerke. The A320/A321P2F conversion programmes are the first in its size category with easy-to-operate volumetric usability that offers both main deck and lower deck containerised loading.

Coupled with the fact that the family of A320/A321 aircraft has modern fly-by-wire technology and advanced performance, the A320/A321P2F are ideal solutions for express domestic and regional operations. ST Engineering is showcasing its freighter conversion, leasing and other aerospace capabilities at the Aviation cluster of the ST Engineering Pavilion (G01) from 15 – 18 February at Singapore Airshow 2022.

Incidentally, the A320 P2F has been designed to cut down on maintenance costs with advanced materials, efficient engines, and a centralised maintenance system. The A320 P2F reportedly offers cost advantage and operational efficiency owing to superior space usage, OEM supported design and efficient components. Considered to be a greener aircraft, the A320 P2F is expected to revolutionise freighter operations and supplement the fast-growing e-commerce market globally.

When compared to the same freighter aircraft of similar class, the A320 P2F has 100% more pallet space (88" x 125" and 96"x 125") and significantly more payload and containerized volume than 737(-700 and -800) and the lowest fuel burn in its class. Its main deck contains 10 container positions and one pallet position and its lower deck comes with 7 container positions. The gross payload of the freighter is over 20 tonnes and its total usable volume is 159m³ (5,603 ft³) respectively.

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