Late last summer, Airbus made the decision to cancel its A320P2F conversion program, a decision that reverberated throughout the industry. Officials for the manufacturer cited weak market demand and lack of availability of suitable A320 feedstock. It appears that the relatively small European charter carrier West Atlantic may have had more to do with the cancellation than its stature would suggest.
West Atlantic — created just four years ago from the merger of Sweden’s West Air Europe and the UK’s Atlantic Airlines — was to take delivery of an initial order of three A320P2Fs aircraft on lease from AerCap. Deliveries were set for between 2012 and mid-2013, with the option of a further four aircraft by 2015. The first planes, of course, never made it.
“We were attracted to the A320P2F for the capabilities it was offering, particularly with its 21- to 22-tonne payload,” Russell Ladkin, sales and operations director of West Atlantic, recently told Air Cargo World. “Also, obviously, we were being offered very advantageous terms to become the launch customer for this aircraft.”
West Atlantic’s customers are the express operators, integrators and European mail companies looking for supplementary and largely overnight freighter lift. Currently, the company’s business mix is divided almost evenly between the European mail houses and the express operators.
The carrier operates an eclectic mix of 38 BAE ATPs, three Bombardier CRJ-200sPFs, three Lockheed Electras, two B737-300Fs and one ATR-72. With this fleet, it lays claim to be Europe’s biggest cargo airline, but that does not disguise the fact that it is still a relatively small player in the greater aviation market. So it was a bold decision by the airline to put itself forward as the launch customer for the Airbus A320 passenger-to-freighter conversion project.
West Atlantic officials became concerned about the order, Ladkin said, not for its initial aircraft intake, but for the four aircraft that were to follow. “We were looking for fixed-cost savings that could match the B737-400F,” Ladkin said. “What Airbus was offering was a freighter with fixed costs 20-percent higher than the B737-400F.”
So it comes as little surprise that West Atlantic has now gone for the B737F option with the acquisition of two B737-300Fs. “Ideally, we want to move onto the B737-400F, which has a comparable payload to the proposed A320P2F and offers an extra pallet position over the B737-300F,” Ladkin said.
“If we do head in that direction,” he continued, “we would be looking at a fleet size of between six and seven aircraft over the next two years.”