SriLankan Engineering Completes Passenger-To-Freighter Airbus A320 Conversion

SriLankan Airlines’ maintenance and engineering department recently completed the passenger-to-freighter (PTF) conversion of an Airbus A320. The aircraft has since entered service for FitsAir, a small Sri Lankan carrier based in Colombo, the country’s largest city. Such conversions have become increasingly common since the onset of coronavirus.

Airbus A320 Getty
SriLankan Engineering teamed up with Avensis Aviation to complete the conversion. Photo: Getty Images

A punctual conversion

The converted A320 was the first product of a newfound collaboration between SriLankan Engineering and UK-based Avensis Aviation. According to Sri Lankan broadcaster Ada Derana, this joint venture also has the means to convert Airbus A330s. The companies hope that their work will attract more foreign airlines to undertake maintenance in Sri Lanka.

Colombo-based FitsAir is the operator of this newly transformed ‘preighter,’ which was completed punctually and without exceeding the planned budget. Its Deputy CEO, Asitha Ranaweera, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the project, stating:

Though it seemed a simple, straightforward process, working remotely with a designer, COVID protocols, and regulatory compliances made the project slightly complicated. However, the SriLankan Engineering team has stood up to the task, and performed well to deliver the aircraft in an excellent condition.”

Aircalin Airbus A320
The aircraft previously flew for Aircalin. Photo: Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons

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Shevantha Weerasekera, SriLankan Airlines’ Head of Engineering, added:

The cargo conversion market is booming, and we are getting onboard at the right time. Avensis Aviation is the ideal partner for us as they bring in the modification approvals and the customer reach.”

The aircraft involved

Data from Planespotters.net seems to suggest that the aircraft that SriLankan converted for FitsAir bears the registration 4R-EXQ. The carrier is currently operating this plane on a lease agreement from AerCap. This company is the world’s largest aircraft lessor. FitsAir initially took delivery of it on March 23rd this year, after which the conversion could begin.

Jetstar A320
The aircraft initially entered service with Jetstar in 2008. Photo: Ken H via Flickr

The aircraft is nearly 13 years old, and had a fairly exotic passenger-carrying career before the conversion. It entered service in July 2008 with Australian low-cost carrier and Qantas subsidiary Jetstar with a 177-seat all-economy configuration. Jetstar then slightly reconfigured the aircraft’s cabin in 2011 to instead seat a total of 180 passengers.

After six years at Jetstar, the aircraft moved on to Aircalin, based on the Pacific island of New Caledonia, in 2014. Owing to New Caledonia being a French overseas territory, Aircalin changed the plane’s registration to feature France’s standard ‘F-‘ prefix. It also sported a new, two-class cabin at Aircalin. This featured eight business class seats, and 150 in economy.

After another six-year spell of active service, Aircalin placed the aircraft into storage in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from July 2020 to March 2021. Its lease ended during this time, meaning that AerCap was free to find another operator for it. This came in the form of FitsAir.

ExpoAir Ilyushin Il-18
FitsAir began in 1997 as ExpoAir, under which name it previously operated a cargo-carrying Ilyushin Il-18. Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons

Regular shuttles to the Maldives

FitsAir reported on Twitter that the A320 had made its inaugural cargo flight on May 9th. Since then, data from RadarBox.com shows that the airline has only flown hour-long shuttles between its base in Colombo and Malé Velana International Airport (MLE) in the Maldives. It has operated four of these round trips in the last week (May 9th, 12th, 13th, and 16th).

Interestingly, these marked the end of an operational hiatus lasting nearly four months. Indeed, it operated no flights between January 10th and May 8th. It will be interesting to see whether, going forward, FitsAir will deploy the converted A320 on any other routes. Planespotters.net reports that, presently, FitsAir’s only other aircraft is a 28-year old ATR72.

What do you make of this conversion? Have you ever flown with FitsAir? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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