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IAI signs deal with Emirates airline to convert passenger aircraft to cargo

Israeli aerospace and aviation manufacturer to convert 4 Boeing passenger planes into cargo carriers at newly opened facility in Abu Dhabi

A Boeing 777 aircraft. (Courtesy: IAI)
A Boeing 777 aircraft. (Courtesy: IAI)

Israel’s aerospace and aviation manufacturer Israel Aerospace Industries signed an agreement with Dubai’s Emirates airline to convert four passenger aircraft into cargo planes, the Israeli firm announced on Monday.

Under the agreement, IAI will convert the Boeing B777-300ER passenger planes into cargo carriers at a newly opened facility in Abu Dhabi, with the potential for the Israeli firm to “provide passenger-to-freighter conversion services to more aircraft,” according to the company.

The deal was announced on the sidelines of the Dubai Air Show, where an official delegation of Israeli defense contractors sent by the Defense Ministry is participating. Seven Israeli firms, including IAI, went to the defense exhibition in the Emirati city, one of the premier weapons shows in the world.

These developments came about a year after the US-brokered Abraham Accords established full formal ties between Israel and the UAE, followed by Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

In August, IAI finalized a deal with the UAE’s Etihad Airways Engineering, the largest commercial aircraft maintenance provider in the Middle East, to establish a major facility in Abu Dhabi to convert Boeing 777-3000ER passenger planes into cargo aircraft.

IAI’s Aviation Group and Etihad said at the time that the conversion site will operate as IAI’s maintenance center in the UAE and help meet the global rise in demand for cargo jets of this model. The companies said the facility would be the largest and most advanced in the Middle East to be certified by the UAE Civil Aviation Authority, the US Federal Aviation Administration, and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

From left to right: Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional senior vice president of cargo; Sir Tim Clark, president Emirates airline, Boaz Levy, IAI CEO and president; Shmuel Kuzi, EVP and general manager of IAI Aviation Group, attend a signing ceremony for a new deal between IAI and Emirates to convert passenger aircraft to cargo, November 2021. (IAI)

Emirates Airlines is the largest operator of B777-300ER aircraft in the world, IAI said.

IAI operates a number of existing global cargo conversion sites for Boeing 737, 747, and 767 aircraft including in Israel, Mexico, China, Italy, and Ethiopia.

Yossi Melamed, executive VP and general manager of IAI’s Aviation Group, told The Times of Israel in August that IAI began working two years ago on converting the 777 aircraft, a large-capacity freighter known as the Big Twin for its twin engines.

Work on the Emirates Airlines planes is scheduled to begin in early 2023.

“Emirates’ decision to select IAI for the conversion of its passenger aircraft to cargo configuration is a testament to IAI’s professional capabilities and IAI’s longstanding international recognition in the field,” said IAI CEO and president Boaz Levy in a statement on Monday.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive at Emirates Airline and Group, said the agreement “underscores our commitment to supporting our customers’ requirements, and reflects our confidence in our future growth and status as one of the largest airline cargo carriers in the world.”

An Emirates SkyCargo aicraft. (Emirates)

IAI has a number of ongoing projects in the UAE. In March, it announced a deal with UAE-based advanced defense technology group EDGE to jointly develop an advanced system to intercept drones and other threats tailored for the UAE market. And last July, the aerospace and aviation manufacturer entered into a collaboration agreement with Group 42, an Abu Dhabi-based firm, on COVID-19 research, marking its first official civilian collaboration with an Emirati firm.

IAI develops and manufactures advanced systems for air, space, sea, land, cyber and homeland security. Since 1953, the company has provided technology solutions to government and commercial customers worldwide, including satellites, UAVs, missiles, weapon systems and munitions, unmanned and robotic systems, and radar. The firm is one of Israel’s largest technology employers with offices and R&D centers in Israel and around the world.

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