Qantas says it plans to introduce the Airbus A321 for its freight business from the second half of 2020 as part of an expanded agreement with Australia Post.
On Saturday, Qantas and Australia Post announced an expanded seven-year contract covering both domestic and international air freight worth $1 billion.
As part of the agreement, Qantas said it would add up to three A321s to Qantas Freight fleet, with the first aircraft expected to arrive in October 2020.
The A321s will be passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversions. The source of the aircraft to be converted was not disclosed.
“Consumer preferences and expectations are rapidly changing and together with Australia Post we’re responding by growing our dedicated freighter fleet to provide a better experience for consumers and businesses,” Qantas group chief executive Alan Joyce said in a statement.
Figures from Airbus showed the A321P2F could carry up to 27.9 metric tonnes of cargo in a two-deck layout comprising up to 14 containers on the main deck and up to 10 containers on the lower deck. The aircraft had a range of 2,300nm.
Qantas said the A321P2F would be able to carry nine more tonnes of freight compared with its existing 737 freighters, which represented about 50 per cent more capacity.
Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate said the new seven-year contract would help meet growing demand for online shopping.
“It means that we can build flexibility into the air freight network to manage increased volumes and demand in the lead-up to Christmas,” Holgate said.
“Last year we flew more than 400 tonnes of mail on our busiest night, and more than 40 million parcels during December; this year, we expect to exceed both those targets.”
Qantas, Australia Post and StarTrack have a long history of cooperation. Qantas and Australia Post formed domestic air freight operator Australian air Express in 1992 as a 50:50 joint venture, while in 2003, again as 50:50 partners, they acquired courier delivery company Star Track Express. In 2012, Qantas sold its share of StarTrack to Australia Post, and in turn acquired Australia Post’s 50 per cent share in Australian air Express.
In 2015, Qantas signed a five-year agreement to carry Australia Post’s domestic mail, parcels and Express Post until the mid-2020s.
Then, in 2016, the airline established a dedicated sub-fleet of freighter aircraft of six freighter aircraft to deliver domestic mail, parcels and Express Post for Australia Post and its subsidiary StarTrack under a five-year contract.
The fleet comprised two Boeing 737-300Fs, one 737-400F (which arrived in 2017) operated by Qantas-owned Express Freighters Australia, as well as three BAe 146-300Fs operated for Qantas by Cobham Aviation Services.
Meanwhile, Qantas Freight also operated one Boeing 767-300F and two Boeing 747-400F freighter aircraft on international routes. The 747 freighters were operated by Atlas on behalf of Qantas.
In April, Qantas said it would replace the two 747-400Fs with the larger capacity 747-8F during 2019.
Currently, Qantas does not operate the A321. However, its charter and fly-in/fly-out subsidiary Network Aviation has a small fleet of A320s at its Perth base.
Also, its low-cost carrier (LCC) unit Jetstar Australia and New Zealand has eight A321s in service and orders for 18 longer range A321LRs due to be delivered from 2020.
And in June the airline group added 36 extended-range A321XLR narrowbodies to its order book with deliveries starting in 2024. The company said the aircraft could be used at either Qantas or Jetstar.
Airbus launched A320 and A321 passenger to freighter program in 2015
Airbus launched the A321 and A320 passenger to freighter conversion program in 2015 in partnership with Singapore-based ST Aerospace and German-based Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW).
As part of the program, ST Aerospace was responsible for the engineering development phase, up to the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) approval by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Meanwhile, Airbus provided the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) data and certification support, with EFW leading the overall program alongside marketing and sales efforts.
EFW was a joint venture between ST Aerospace and Airbus, with the Singapore company holding a 55 per cent stake and Airbus the remainder.
In August 2017, United States-based Precision Aircraft Solutions and the Air Transport Services Group said they would also offer A321 passenger to freighter conversions through their 321 Precision Conversion joint-venture.
And at the 2018 Singapore Airshow, European aircraft trading and leasing company Vallair was announced as the launch customer for the A321P2F with orders for 10 aircraft and options for a further 10.
At the time, the company said the first aircraft would be inducted for conversion during the last quarter of 2018 and scheduled for redelivery by the end of 2019.
In February 2019, Cargo Facts reported Vallair would begin offering A321P2F aircraft for lease from the first quarter of 2020.
Boeing also offers its 737 for conversion from passenger to freighter aircraft and secured numerous orders at the recently concluded Paris Airshow.