Lufthansa’s CityLine passenger branch for transporting freight
Deutsche Lufthansa AG (DXE: LHA) expands its freight capabilities with a rare investment in narrow-body cargo ships.
The German national carrier announced on Wednesday that its cargo division, which operates 10 Boeing 777 widebody freighters and has access to four more through its Aerologic joint venture with DHL, will acquire two Airbus A321s and convert them into freighters for intra-Road use. European markets that support the growing demand for e-commerce. Lufthansa Cargo will take delivery of an additional 777 later this year.
The two small freighters will be operated for Lufthansa Cargo by sister company Lufthansa CityLine, a regional passenger carrier that operates A319 aircraft, as well as smaller Embraer and Bombardier jets. The A321 freighters will operate from the CityLine hub at Frankfurt Airport.
Lufthansa did not provide details on the origin of the plane or who will do the conversion work, but said the planes will enter service in early 2022.
The entry of CityLine into the cargo sector is part of a trend among some passenger airlines. In recent months SmartLynx in Latvia, Air Canada (TSX: IT), Canadian carriers WestJet, Sun Country and Mesa Airlines have all launched cargo divisions, or have announced plans to do so, with the goal of diversifying their revenues and riding the wave of air cargo driven by e-commerce.
Lufthansa cited research showing that cross-border e-commerce volumes in Europe are expected to grow by around 20% per year over the next five years.
Lufthansa is one of the early adopters of the A321 freighter, which entered the market late last year as a competitor to the converted Boeing 737-800. Both planes are highly sought after by express delivery carriers and others that operate short and medium haul services due to their improved fuel efficiency compared to older planes and their optimal size for scheduled shuttle trips. Consumer expectations for prompt delivery are increasing demand for more air freight routes in Europe and globally.
The A321 has the added benefit of being able to carry a few thousand pounds more cargo and small containers in its belly cargo bay, in addition to large containers on the main deck. Aviation experts also see the A321 as a good candidate to replace the Boeing 757 freighter, which is nearing the end of its lifespan.
“With the converted A321s, we are meeting our customers’ growing demand for same-day solutions and further strengthening our dense network of global connections as well as our product offering,” said Lufthansa Cargo CEO Dorothea von Boxberg, in a press release. “The type of aircraft selected can carry 28 metric tonnes per flight, significantly greater cargo volumes than in the short-haul airways of passenger aircraft. In addition to freight forwarders, integrators and postal operators, e-commerce providers will be customers of this offer.
So far, SmartLynx, Titan Airways and Australian company Qantas Airways each operate an A321.
Two companies manufacture the conversion kits and manage the reconstruction of the aircraft: Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH, a joint venture between Airbus and ST Engineering of Singapore; and 321 Precision Conversions in the United States. A third company, China-based Sine Draco Aviation, also plans to begin conversion work next year, pending certification of its design by aviation authorities.
Overhauling passenger planes to carry heavy cargo on the main deck requires the installation of wider doors, the removal of seats and other interior elements, the strengthening of the floor supports, the addition of a rigid barrier in front of the cockpit and the installation of a mechanical cargo handling system to move large containers.
The A321 will be the first narrow-body cargo ship controlled by Lufthansa Cargo. Prior to the formation of Lufthansa Cargo, the parent company operated two 727-200 freighters and one 737-300 decades ago, according to spokesperson Andreas Pauker.
Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.
ATSG steps up to hire converted A321 freighters
Transatlantic rivalry is brewing around the Airbus A321 freighter
Canadian passenger carrier WestJet to launch cargo division
Why the converted A321 freighter looks like a hot ticket
Amazon and FedEx Airline Partner ASL Order 737-800 Converted Freighters