Air Astana Is Giving ‘Serious Thought’ To Dedicated Freighter Aircraft

Air Astana is giving serious thought to dedicated freighter operations, as it is converting its makeshift Boeing 767 freighter back into a passenger aircraft. The airline’s CEO Peter Foster told Simple Flying that the decision is complicated as returning passenger capacity could lead to a ‘glut’ of cargo capacity.

Air Astana, Boeing 767, Freighters
Air Astana is putting serious thought into a fleet of dedicated freighters. Photo: Air Astana

As the COVID-19 pandemic grounded passenger aircraft worldwide, there was suddenly a massive deficit in cargo capacity that coincided with a need to transport light, high volume cargo such as personal protective equipment. To cope with this, many airlines decided to take seats out of their passenger aircraft it creates more space for cargo.

Returning the 767 to passenger service

Air Astana owns the three youngest passenger Boeing 767 aircraft. In May 2020, the airline decided to convert one of these to a makeshift freighter to take advantage of the increased cargo demand while passenger demand was low.

The airline’s CEO, Peter Foster, told Simple Flying that 15 months on, the aircraft was now being converted back to their passenger configuration. Foster said,

“It performed extremely well for those 15 months in its semi freighter configuration. It operated close to 300 cargo charter flights… we took the decision some weeks ago to convert it back to a passenger aircraft because 767 demand is very substantial. It is in the process of being reconverted at the moment, and I expect to have it back online as a passenger aircraft, by the end of this month.”

Air Astana, Boeing 767, Freighters
The airline is converting its makeshift Boeing 767 freighter back to passenger use. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia

Could Air Astana use a dedicated freighter?

The Boeing 767 is being converted back to passenger use as the airline needs its capacity for so-called ‘lifestyle travel’ destinations. This begs the question if Air Astana made a cargo Boeing 767 work for a month, would there be a place for a dedicated cargo aircraft in the Air Astana fleet going forwards.

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On this point, Foster isn’t so sure. He points out that the lead time on a new cargo aircraft joining the Air Astana fleet would be around a year, so it is necessary to look into the future instead of right now. Air Astana is returning the Boeing 767 to passenger use for the same reason that would perhaps mean there is no need for a dedicated freighter.

As passenger airlines grounded their fleets, the availability of belly space for cargo drastically shrunk overnight. This, in part, created the vast demand that meant it made sense for Air Astana to make a freighter. With passenger aircraft returning to the skies, there could soon be a surge in cargo capacity availability.

Air Astana, Boeing 767, Freighters
Returning passenger capacity means that the decision about a dedicated freighter isn’t an easy one. Photo: Getty Images

A serious consideration

On the subject, Foster told Simple Flying that the idea of a dedicated freighter is being studied at the moment, with the airline giving serious thought to the acquisition of a couple of freighters. He added,

“The danger is that [dedicated freighters] would come on stream at a time that a significant amount of belly space was either coming back into the market or already in the market, and [a freighter] would be delivered right in the middle of a capacity glut.”

He added that the decision isn’t a straightforward one, commenting,

“It is, therefore, a complicated decision requiring a degree of guesswork as to how quickly international markets are going to recover.”

Do you think Air Astana should start flying a dedicated freighter? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!