IndiGo, India’s largest airline, looks close to inducting its first freighter plane as it seeks to capture the boom in air cargo driven by the pandemic.
An IndiGo CarGo-branded aircraft was spotted this week at Seletar Airport in Singapore’s north east. Seletar is a much smaller airport than Changi Airport, serving mainly private jets, and a few regional commercial flights and hosting a hub for maintenance and repair shops.
The dedicated cargo jet, registered as 9H-AMQ, is an Airbus SE A321P2F (Passenger To Freighter) that’s previously been used by carriers including Aeroflot PJSC, Lithuanian group Avion Express UAB and Thomas Cook Airlines, according to Planespotters.net.
A representative for IndiGo said delivery to India was likely to be in August although a precise date has yet to be advised.
Demand for dedicated cargo jets jumped when Covid-19 culled air travel and carriers weren’t able to transport freight in the belly hold of passenger aircraft, which were grounded.
Pre-pandemic, around 60% of all international air-cargo capacity flew in the holds of passenger jets, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Carriers resorted to temporarily converting some passenger jets to freighter planes, pulling out seats to carry packages and boxes inside their main cabins.
In October 2020, it was first learned that IndiGo’s CEO Ronojoy Dutta was looking into the possibility of cargo-only operations.
InterGlobe Aviation Ltd., which operates IndiGo, said in 2021 that it planned to source four converted A321ceo planes, which can each carry 27 tonnes, for full-time cargo operations on both domestic and international routes.
The conversion of the A321ceo into a freight aircraft, which IndiGo is expected to induct in May, is taking place in Singapore.
The A321P2F is part of that strategy, which is being worked upon through a program involving Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmBH, the joint venture company of Singapore’s ST Engineering and Airbus. It can carry 27 tonnes of cargo, nearly double the belly capacity of a standard A321.
The planemaker also offers freighter versions of its A330 airplane, but it hasn’t tasted much success since its launch in 2010.
However, it does have high hopes for the A350F model, which will compete with Boeing’s new freighter based on the Boeing 777X and already has 29 orders and commitments from five customers.
It said it expected to take delivery of its first freighter in the first half of 2022 and the remaining three within a year of that first delivery.
The aircraft are being converted through a program involving Elbe Flugzeugwerke GmbH, the joint venture company of Singapore’s ST Engineering and Airbus. The plane spotted by Bloomberg News was in an ST Engineering hanger.
IndiGo Chief Executive Officer Ronojoy Dutta said during the airline’s fourth-quarter earnings call that cargo grew 31% year-over-year. “Cargo is strong and all the signs are there that cargo will continue to be very strong going forward,” Dutta said.
InterGlobe Enterprises Ltd., InterGlobe Aviation’s parent, has also teamed with United Parcel Service Inc. to tap India’s ballooning logistics market. New brand MOVIN will focus on domestic business-to-business logistics and begin services in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru in July.
(With Inputs from Bloomberg)
Cover Image – Bloomberg