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IAI to open Boeing cargo jet conversion site with Etihad Group in UAE

Facility will help meet global rise in demand for cargo aircraft driven by COVID-19 pandemic

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

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

Israel’s aerospace and aviation manufacturer IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) has signed an agreement with the UAE’s Etihad Airways Engineering, the largest commercial aircraft maintenance provider in the Mideast, to establish a major facility in Abu Dhabi to convert Boeing 777-3000ER passenger planes into cargo aircraft.

In a press announcement on Wednesday, IAI’s Aviation Group and Etihad said 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 claimed that the facility will 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.

IAI operates a number of existing global cargo conversion sites for Boeing 737, 747, and 767 aircraft including in Israel, Mexico, China, and Italy. The state-owned IAI recently concluded a deal to open a 767 conversion line in Ethiopia.

Yossi Melamed, executive VP and general manager of IAI’s Aviation Group, told The Times of Israel 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, and has already concluded the engineering process. It expects to receive licensing by the end of next year.

The agreement comes a year after the historic, US-brokered Abraham Accords established full formal ties between Israel and the UAE, followed by Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

“Establishing the conversion site in partnership with Etihad Engineering is a testament to IAI’s strong ties with the UAE and strengthens its foothold in the region, “said IAI president and CEO Boaz Levy in a company statement. “I am confident that this agreement will lead to many more partnerships with local companies in the Gulf States, which will grow our business in the region.”

Group Chief Executive Officer of Etihad Aviation Group Tony Douglas, right, and Executive VP and General Manager of IAI’s Aviation Group Yossi Melamed (Photo: Etihad)

Melamed told The Times of Israel that IAI has held Etihad’s operations in high regard for many years “and now we have the opportunity to work with them.”

“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,” he said in the statement.

Tony Douglas, CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, said, “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.”

The Boeing 777-300ERSF, he added, is the first in its size category to offer extensive cargo solutions and will answer growing demand in the air cargo market driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. The global health crisis has cut passenger activity across the globe due to travel restrictions while the manufacturing sector has seen a spike, according to an April report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Etihad Engineering CEO Abdul Khaliq Saeed said the company was “delighted to announce our partnership with IAI which maximizes the potential of our highly skilled workforce and reinforces Etihad Engineering’s position as a center of excellence in Abu Dhabi.”

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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