Airbus A320 CG issue won’t stop P2F again

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Airbus A321 passenger to freighter aircraft

Airbus’ aircraft conversion company Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW) is confident it can get its supplementary type certificate for converting Airbus A320 family aircraft despite the airliner’s forward centre of gravity issue.

Launched at the Paris Air Show this year, the converted Airbus A320 and Airbus A321 will have 11 and 14 positions, respectively.

The A320 will have a 21 tonne capacity for a range of 2,100 nautical miles (3,889 kilometres) and the A321, up to 27 tonnes for 1,900 nautical miles. The planned 2018 entry into service is expected to see an A321 fly.

An Airbus supported EFW A320 passenger to freighter (P2F) programme was to be launched a few years ago, but market and technical challenges stopped it. In September last year, PACAVIA launched its own unsupported A320, A321 P2F programme.

The technical challenge for EFW was resolving the issue of where to put the cargo door without aggravating the A320’s forward centre of gravity issue.

Aircraft stability involves balancing a number of factors including the centre of gravity (CG) and centre of pressure.

EFW’s head of aircraft conversion sales, Andreas Mayer, spoke to ACW and says: “We had the problem of a design decision to put a cargo door in the back, the A320 has a forward centre of gravity issue and putting structural reinforcement in the rear we would have cured that problem, but we created new problems by putting in a door at the rear because the structure was very weak at that area and we had to reinforce to a much greater extent and we were required to do a full fatigue test. Then we realised the aircraft is going into an unstable state, flutter, and it created…new technical challenges.”

About 2,500 of the 3,000 A320 family aircraft made can be  converted for a market estimated to be up to 800 over 20 years, including Boeing 757 replacements, as well as Boeing 737.

This time, Singapore based-ST Aerospace is doing the design with Airbus’ and EFW support. ST Aerospace is also taking a controlling stake in EFW.

Mayer explains: “We now have the door in the front. Our cargo door location is at two different locations for the A320 and A321, so we do not have the door in the same position.

“On the A321 it is further back due to the forward CG issue. We are trying to put the door as far back as possible without reducing loading clearance for the engine nacelle.”

He adds EFW is not creating a freighter matching all requirements. Its heaviest position weight is 2.5 tonnes in the centre area. “We have four heavy positions as we call it now with up to 2.5 tonnes”.

The customers are expected to be integrators, such as FedEx in the US or SF Express and China Postal in China. Mayer adds that China could have a conversion centre, but now, in Europe it is Dresden, or in Singapore and Alabama for the US.