Bournemouth Airport’s goal of becoming a strategic air freight hub for the UK has taken a major step forward with news that European Cargo has received EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) certification for its Airbus A340 wide-bodied freighter conversion programme.
The Bournemouth-based carrier is converting a fleet of ex-passenger A340 aircraft into long-haul freighters as it looks to cater to rising e-commerce demand.
The airline has installed a sophisticated fire detection and suppression system, including live testing at altitude, which allowed for the certification. This certification will be followed by a similar assessment by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), with European Cargo hoping for the green light in the New Year.
European Cargo believes the certification is a landmark moment in the development of its fleet, which could make Bournemouth Airport a huge contender in the UK air freight market.
“Our pod containment system has proven itself through a rigorous testing regime and means we are on track for full cabin utilisation, giving each aircraft a combined belly and cabin capacity of 77 tonnes or 450 cubic metres,” said managing director Iain Edwards.
“With six freighters already at Bournemouth for conversion and a further six available to us, that catapults us into the No.1 slot of UK-based wide-bodied carriers by some margin.”
Steve Gill, managing director at Bournemouth Airport, said the move paves the way for the introduction of hundreds of tonnes of global freight capacity from the air hub in the New Year. The airport expects to manage the additional capacity with its own dedicated handling operations in the form of Cargo First.
European Cargo’s fleet is made up of former Virgin Atlantic and Etihad Airbus A340 passenger aircraft. Its first conversion is an ex-Virgin A340-600, once the world’s longest airliner stretching to 75.4m or 247 feet and capable of carrying up to 370 passengers.
The conversion process has involved the removal of all bulkheads, rear galley and toilets and replacing them with 39 pods in six different sizes. Each pod is covered by a fire containment bag tested to withstand a lithium battery fire for six and a half hours, which means that any fire can be contained to a single pod without affecting the rest of the cargo and aircraft.
So far, two of the A340s have already been completed and one more is in progress, with six targeted for completion in early 2023. Options on a further six will depend on demand, particularly for cross-border e-commerce.
European says it has a waiting list of freight customers and sees considerable growth opportunities with e-commerce, with forecasts from IATA predicting volumes to double from 131 billion parcels in 2021 to 260 billion in 2025.