The Bedek division of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is pushing to expand its share of the passenger-to-freighter conversion market with a new supplemental type certificate (STC) for Boeing’s 737-700 narrowbody expected to be announced in June. Meanwhile, it is in the middle of the design and development project for the larger -800 model and hopes to secure the STC for that modification in the first quarter of 2018.
According to IAI executive vice president and Bedek division head Yosi Melamed, the freighter conversion for the larger 767-300 aircraft continues to be the bedrock of the company’s business model. He told AIN that all available slots for this modification are booked through the end of 2017, and Bedek now is taking bookings for 2018. It is in the process of expanding its engineering capacity by opening a new jointly owned facility in Mexico with local carrier Mexicana, and this should receive its first aircraft by July.
According to Melamed, the entry into airline service of the new 737 Max narrowbody, which started with first deliveries in May, will prompt airlines to release passenger-carrying -700s and -800s onto the market for freighter conversions. “Right now, the price of the -800 is still too high [for conversion customers] but that will change and the -300 and -400 classic models will become less attractive,” he predicted.
Once the -700 and -800 STCs are secured, Bedek intends to turn its attention to Airbus freighter platforms. It believes that the arrival of the rival A320neo family will prompt demand to convert the existing A320ceo aircraft. But Melamed is in no rush to move into this market segment as he believes that, for now, prices of these airframes are still too high to be attractive for these purposes.
Meanwhile, the transition now happening in the narrowbody airliner sector is presenting opportunities for Bedek’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) unit. This is now at the early stages of positioning itself to start providing support for the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan and CFM International Leap turbofans that power the A320neo and the 737 Max families. Bedek has long provided support for the CFM56, PW4000 and V2500 engines, with a focus on handling major overhauls for airlines and leasing companies.
“One of our advantages is that we have the ability to refurbish engines at different stages of their lives,” said Melamed. “But we’re also good at providing immediate, on-wing support just about anywhere within 12 to 24 hours. This is a very competitive, price sensitive market but we have a very high quality product, with almost zero failures and not many returns.”
Last year, Bedek opened a new MRO facility at Hubei in China through a joint venture with Lingyun (Yichang) Science and Technology Group Co. Ltd. The operation is focused on supporting airliners and offering various conversions and upgrades.
Back in Israel, the company supports a wide array of aircraft components, landing gear and auxiliary power units. It is also active in the military market, provide maintenance and modifications for aircraft such as the C130 transport and engines powering the fleet of the Israel Defense Forces. It can replace wings on the C130.
Separately, IAI recently achieved European certification for its new TaxiBot semi-robotic, pilot-controlled tow vehicle to be used with the A320 family of aircraft. The approval, issued by EASA on May 18, specifically allows engine start-ups during taxi for all A318/319/320/321 models, including the new Neo types. IAI already has approval to use the system with the Boeing 737.
Taxi-Bot has been designed to move airliners from the terminal gates to the runway and back without using the aircraft’s own engines. The equipment has been developed in partnership with TLD, with the support of Lufthansa Leos, Boeing and Airbus. It has already been in service for Lufthansa 737 operations out of Frankfurt Airport.