Pandemic legacy: Israeli company transforms jets for cargo

The passenger doors on the jumbo jet were just too small. So engineers at Israel’s main airport sliced a new hole the size of an SUV into the side of the fuselage — and hoisted a massive hatch into place.

In many ways, it’s the doorway to the post-pandemic future of the battered airline industry.

As global tourism struggles to its feet after two harrowing years of coronavirus restrictions, Israel’s state-owned aerospace company is cashing in on the growth of e-commerce by converting grounded passenger planes into cargo jets for global giants like Amazon and DHL. The work reflects what analysts think is a permanent, pandemic-driven boom for shipping the stuff people buy.

To adapt, Israel Aerospace Industries early in the pandemic sped up and expanded what amounts to its assembly line. The sales pitch: At about $35 million an aircraft, the metamorphosis is a bargain compared to buying a new cargo plane four or five times that price. Now, the company says, it transforms about 25 planes a year, up from about 18 annually before the onslaught of COVID-19.

The company has emerged as a top player in this market, competing with others like Boeing. Its numbers continue to grow, and IAI officials say orders are booked for the next four years.

“This is about the relationship between passengers and cargo and pandemic,” said Shmuel Kuzi, executive vice president and general manager of the company’s aviation division. He says IAI now converts Boeing 737s and the much larger 767s….


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