Boeing Set To Convert Aircraft To Freighters At London Gatwick Airport

Boeing is set to increase its UK footprint by opening a new freighter conversion line at its existing London Gatwick Airport facility. Opening next year, the new line will see the total number of employees at the facility rise to 130. The US planemaker will also open two further conversion lines in Kelowna, Canada, a year later, in 2023.

Boeing will launch the Gatwick facility with an 11-aircraft order from Icelease. Photo: Boeing

11 converted freighters for Icelease

As part of the Dubai Air Show, Icelandic aircraft lessor Icelease announced a firm order for 11 Boeing 737-800s today. While such an order might not necessarily raise eyebrows at first, the nature of the exact 737s in question is far more striking than the average 737 order. Specifically, Icelease will receive a Converted Freighter version of the popular twinjet.

In order to mark the occasion, Boeing has also made a tandem announcement regarding where the conversions of these aircraft will occur. Specifically, Icelease will be the launch customer for a brand-new conversion line at Boeing’s existing MRO facility at London Gatwick Airport. Boeing Europe’s President, Sir Martin Donnelly, stated:

This new work for London Gatwick not only is a result of the cargo demand we’re seeing worldwide, but also because of the aviation industry’s valued position in the United Kingdom. (…) Boeing’s footprint in the UK across defense, commercial, and services is robust and growing, and today’s announcement is yet another in recent weeks that demonstrates our partnership here.”

Boeing Gatwick
Boeing’s MRO facility at Gatwick was the result of a £100 million investment. Photo: Boeing

A boost for the local economy

The announcement represents good news not just for Boeing and Icelease, but also for Gatwick and the local area as a whole. When the new conversion line opens, the MRO facility as a whole will have 130 employees, representing 5% of Boeing’s total UK footprint.

Boeing already has a strong presence in the Crawley area. This is thanks to its nearby Gatwick Training Campus, which has another 100 staff. It could yet see further growth due to increased conversion demand. Gatwick’s CEO, Stuart Wingate, stated that:

[Boeing’s] new freighter conversion line provides another welcome boost for the airport, for the local people who will work there and for the region’s economy. Boeing’s new line will help meet expected strong demand to convert aircraft into freighters that can carry cargo, which reflects our forecasts that cargo volumes handled at Gatwick could also increase significantly if our future airport plans are realized.”

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Two Canadian conversion lines also planned

In the longer term, Boeing foresees demand for 1,720 freighter conversions in the next 20 years. It expects that 20% of these will be in Europe, making its Gatwick conversion line an ideally-situated facility. However, it also has the rest of the world to consider. For this, it will be opening two lines at Canada’s KF Aerospace MRO in Kelowna, British Columbia.

These will open in 2023, serving the 30% of conversion demand Boeing expects from North and Latin America. Going forward, it also hopes to open lines in China and Costa Rica. All in all, the business of converting aircraft certainly seems to be a lucrative one. In the coming years, there will be plenty of aging 737-800s that might be the perfect planes for the job.

What do you make of Boeing’s decision to open a conversion facility at Gatwick? Are you looking forward to seeing more converted freighter aircraft in the skies? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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