Friday 3 February 2023

Costa Rican firm will convert passenger planes to alleviate cargo demand

Boeing hires a cooperative in Alajuela to remodel 40 aircraft in the first line of work of this type in Latin America

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QCOSTARICA – Costa Rican talent will, starting in March, assume the job of transforming retired passenger planes into cargo aircraft due to its growing global demand. This work is the first of its kind in Latin America by the Self-managed Cooperative of Aeroindustrial Services (Coopesa) in Alajuela.

Image from the staff of Coopesa. Photo: Coopesa R.L.

Boeing reported in 2021 that it is experiencing a wave of cargo aircraft orders due to the growth in merchandise shipments, due to the rise of electronic commerce and the need to supply global supply chains affected in the last two years.

For this reason, Boeing contracted Coopesa – whose facilities are located at the Juan Santamaría International Airport -, as its new maintenance, repair and overhaul provider (MRO), and with this it will increase its capacity for the transformation of its Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

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The agreement is for five years and consists of modifying 40 aircraft in two lines of work. Each line will always have an aircraft in the conversion process. The first will start in March while the second is scheduled for July.

Boeing estimates that the air cargo market will need at least 1,500 passenger aircraft conversions in the next two decades to address the strong dynamics in this sector.

“We are rushing to expand. The pandemic hit the aeronautical industry very hard, but now it opens its doors for us. Covid-19 sent thousands of planes to the ground without receiving maintenance for a long time. When the flights returned, the demand for maintenance services skyrocketed,” explained Kenneth Waugh Holguín, executive director of Coopesa.

Coopesa was busy in 2021. The executive said they had to reject some 70 planes in need of maintenance, about US$40 million dollars in revenue, due to lack of space.

The work with Boeing is for five years, but if Coopesa finishes deliveries earlier, more planes would be assigned to them. Once the modifications to the aircraft have been analyzed, Waugh Holguín assures that, due to the experience and expertise of his workforce, they will achieve that goal.

“In discussions at Boeing we are even considering increasing the lines of work to four positions by 2024. We need to expand our capacity and facilities,” he added.

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His forecast is to add another 500 positions for aviation technicians apart from the 830 people that Coopesa already employs. That is now another facet that opens the business with Boeing. However, the spokesperson knows that Coopesa is not alone in the world and faces competition. He puts it in plain terms: “Now we have to tie this work well and create capacity to grow.”

“Coopesa has demonstrated the technical expertise and commitment to quality and execution necessary to help us meet growing customer demand for the 737-800BCF,” Jens Steinhagen, director of freighter conversions for Boeing, said in a company statement last May.

Image of one of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft already converted into a cargo aircraft. This will be the result of the work done from Costa Rica. Photo: Boeing.

This is the first operation of its kind on the continent. So far, Boeing converts its 737-800 airliners to freighters at three facilities located in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Jinan; all in China.

When the Ticos in Alajuela finish with each plane, that aircraft will be able to airlift almost 52 tons of supplies distributed in two compartments: an upper one where the seats were and the lower one that came with the original design.

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Coopesa was founded in 1963 and its facilities include three hangars with capacity for up to seven work lines for narrow-body aircraft. Staff also make structural repairs to damaged aircraft, perform inspections, interior renovations, and other aircraft maintenance.

“With the current and anticipated e-commerce boom, no one in this country should be surprised that their online-purchased packages come to the country aboard a plane converted from Costa Rica because this is the challenge we now take on and that fills us so much with joy. pride”, declared Waugh Holguín.

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