The kings of the African Aviation Jungle yet again portray another act of exponential growth, this time round to the cargo section of the biggest airline on the African continent. The first 767-300BDSF freighter was being converted with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) at the Ethiopian Airlines’ maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facility in Addis Ababa (ADD), one of the biggest in Africa.

Ethiopian Airlines established a cargo conversion program at its facilities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This move was announced on August 19th and was only made possible through a collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

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Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767

The 767-300 passenger to freighter conversion process

The establishment of the 767-300 freighter involved a close collaborative working relationship with IAI. Tewolde GebreMariam, the then Ethiopian Airlines CEO, expressed enthusiasm during the Genesis stage of the conversion, saying,

‘’…we have been increasing our cargo capacity in fleet, ground service infrastructure, and cargo connectivity network. Accordingly, we are partnering with IAI, one of the global technology leaders in the Aerospace industry, in building a cargo conversion center in our MRO facilities in Addis Ababa Airport.”

The conversion center launched operations with the conversion of three Ethiopian Airlines-owned 767-300s. This is the first one of the three.

The process of converting passenger aircraft to freighters involves removing all of the interiors – bathrooms, galleys, seats – and plugging the windows. Floor rollers are added to allow cargo pallets to slide down to the back of the aircraft more easily.

Structural work is undertaken to ensure the aircraft can support the weight of its new loads, and to allow for the addition of a side door. The door is perhaps the most complex of modifications made to the jets, removing a large piece of the fuselage and converting it to an opening large enough to load cargo pallets.

IAI Ethiopian door cut

Adding the large cargo door is an essential step. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

The worldwide expansion of IAI

An IAI facility set up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, gives hope to so many African jets and not just those of Ethiopian Airlines. With a sharp rise in the demand for cargo aircraft due to the proliferation of e-commerce rise and also the effects of the pandemic, many airlines have turned to freight as a key element of their business strategy.

While new freighter aircraft remain expensive to purchase, converting older widebodies like the Boeing 767 has proved fruitful. This has led to IAI opening up conversion centers around the world. This has included working with Etihad on the ‘big twin’ Boeing 777-330ERSF project and securing an order for four of the same from Canadian airline Cargojet. The firm also recently secured EASA approval for Boeing 737 conversions.

Big twin

The Big Twin project sees the development of the world’s first Boeing 777-300ERSF. Photo: IAI

With a massive presence all over the world, The Ethiopian-based passenger to freighter conversion center becomes the first of its kind on the African Continent set up by IAI. The firm already operates at its campus at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel, as well as one facility in Mexico, one in Abu Dhabi and two in China. However, it announced another facility in July 2021. Indeed, IAI agreed to establish a passenger-to-freighter conversion site in Naples, Italy, with Atitech. This site will focus on converting Boeing 737-700s and -800s to freighters.

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