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cargo plane

Israeli Aircraft Industries and Etihad Engineering to open Mideast’s largest facility to convert passenger planes into cargo aircraft.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Israeli Aircraft Industries and the United Arab Emirates’ Etihad Engineering are setting up a facility in Abu Dhabi to convert Boeing passenger planes into cargo aircraft, IAI announced on Wednesday. It is the first joint aviation venture since last year’s signing of the Abraham Accords.

The endeavor addresses a critical shortage of cargo aircraft resulting from the COVID pandemic. It also underlines how cargo planes has become aviation’s ray of hope in a bleak year for passenger travel.

With fewer passenger flights, belly cargo — freight normally carried in the belly of passenger planes — has fallen 43 percent in the past year. Industry forecasts predict a need for 1,000-1,500 cargo planes over the course of the 2020s.

According to the International Air Transport Association, demand for air cargo grew eight percent in the first half of 2021, above pre-pandemic levels.

The IAI already operates passenger-to-cargo facilities in Israel and Mexico. Earlier in August, it signed a similar conversion project with Ethiopian Airlines to set up a facility in Addis Ababa.

“Not only do we see the demand but we view it as a greener, more profitable, highly innovative solution for our airline customers, and an excellent way to drive value for our business,” said Tony Douglas, group chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group.

The Abu Dhabi facility will be the largest airplane conversion facility in the Mideast.

“Over many years, Etihad Engineering has received the highest professional regard from IAI’s Aviation Group,” said Yossi Melamed, executive vice president and general manager of the IAI Aviation Group. “The Abraham Accords have enabled us to meet the company’s managers firsthand, to see their ability and dedication, in addition to witnessing the company’s great capabilities in the field of jet maintenance.”

Melamed added, “The agreement we signed adds a significant tier to the relations between Israel and the Gulf States. I have no doubt that following this agreement, additional agreements with companies in the region will arrive, and they will economically benefit all sides involved.”

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