Air Canada To Push Ahead With Boeing 767 Freighter Conversion

This morning Air Canada provided an update on its cargo business and the next steps in its adaptation to the current aviation climate. Part of this plan includes a pivot to increased cargo operations and providing freight services – particularly to handle the rise in e-commerce and online shopping. With that in mind, the airline is looking to bring back dedicated cargo aircraft into its fleet by converting some of its retired passenger 767-300s.

Rouge Air Canada 767
The planes, now retired, had previously been flying under the Air Canada Rouge brand. To date, Air Canada has operated more than 3,500 all-cargo flights globally. Photo: lasta29 via Wikimedia Commons

It was last month during its Q3 earnings call that we discovered Air Canada had tentative plans to convert some of its now-retired 767s. However, the airline made it clear that this was not a 100% confirmed plan as the carrier had to seek approval from its pilots via the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA). This was what an Air Canada executive said at the beginning of the month:

“We are exploring the opportunity to convert several of our owned Boeing 767 aircraft to freighters subject to concluding satisfactory arrangements with our pilots. We believe that this will be an exciting opportunity to leverage the growth of e-commerce and Air Canada’s global footprint.” -Lucie Guillemette, Executive VP & Chief Commercial Officer, Air Canada

A successful conclusion to collective agreement amendments

The airline reports that it has successfully concluded the collective agreement amendment process with its pilots, represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA). These contractual changes will enable Air Canada to “competitively operate dedicated cargo aircraft in the cargo marketplace.”

Guillemette says the airline now operates up to 100 international, all-cargo flights weekly, and with ACPA’s recent ratification on cargo operating arrangements, it can plan the conversion of several owned Boeing 767-300ERs recently retired from passenger service.

Alitalia 767
Conversion to freighters gives old passenger aircraft a second life. Photo: Rami Mizrahi via Wikimedia Commons

What does this mean for the 767s?

Previously flown under the Air Canada Rouge brand, Air Canada’s 767s operated leisure flights in various markets, including transatlantic and transpacific destinations, the United States, and the Caribbean.

In fact, the 767s were initially used by Rouge for flights to Edinburgh, Scotland; Venice, Italy; and Athens, Greece. They also operated seasonal service between Vancouver and Osaka’s Kansai airport.

More than just removing seats, the video below shows the kind of work involved in conducting a full and permanent passenger-to-freighter conversion:

In fact, a permanent conversion of a passenger aircraft into a fully-fledged, dedicated cargo-freighter to carry heavier payloads is serious business, requiring transportation to an approved conversion facility. The interiors will need to be completely stripped, and the cabin floor needs to be strengthened. A loading hatch will also need to be cut out of the fuselage. The passenger doors are deactivated, and the windows are blocked out.

What do you think of Air Canada’s plan to convert its retired 767s into permanent freighters? Do you think its plan to capitalize on the rise in e-commerce activity will pay off? Let us know in the comments.