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Qantas expanding Australia freight fleet to meet up online shopping demand

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australias Qantas Airways said on Monday it could add six Airbus SE A321 converted freighters to its domestic fleet to displace five ageing Boeing Co 737s and expand capacity to meet up a surge popular from online shopping.

The A321 freighters will undoubtedly be sourced from the open market and converted from carrying passengers to cargo at the mercy of commercial negotiations, the airline said, adding the planes were likely to arrive between early 2024 and mid-2026.

The freighters will join another three A321s already in the airlines domestic cargo fleet and expand carrying capacity given the A321s can carry 23 tonnes of cargo, nine tonnes a lot more than the 737s.

Qantas LEADER Alan Joyce said the airlines freight division, which reported record first-half earnings, was among the groups stick out performers through the pandemic as Australians shifted to online shopping.

Although some of this shift is temporary, demand remains well-above pre-pandemic levels despite having the lifting of virtually all COVID-related restrictions, he said in a statement.

Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd, a significant converter of A321 passenger planes to freighters, said the other day that conversion demand remained strong, with orders for the model booked through 2025.

The shortage of passenger plane cargo-carrying capacity through the pandemic sent freight rates soaring, delayed retirements of older models like MD-11s and had lessors rushing to convert older unwanted passenger planes into carrying freight.

However, the strong cargo demand that helped passenger-deprived airlines stay afloat through the pandemic is showing signs of softening amid growing economic uncertainty, partly, fuelled by high inflation.

(Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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