TOULOUSE – While COVID-19 may have severely damaged the passenger air transport sector, the cargo market has gone from strength to strength and Airbus wants a piece of the pie.
Rumours have circulated for some time that the European manufacturer intends to build a freight version of its A350 model. Sales executives have even approached cargo operators to establish if there is a market for a new wide-bodied freighter.
Now Airbus CEO Gauillaume Faury has confirmed that they intend to challenge Boeing’s dominance of the all-cargo airliner market.
Ending Boeing’s Monopoly
Speaking at the plane-makers first-quarter results presentations Mr Faury said that it is: “not healthy to have only one player exclusively in a segment that is actually very significant and has been resisting well in the pandemic.”
He acknowledged that Airbus had been traditionally “weak” in this area and explained: “We do not like the idea to remain weak in that segment in the future. I think we have the right product to be able to be more aggressive in that market,”
Despite declining to confirm what wide-bodied model would be chosen from its portfolio, the state-of-the-art A350 appears to be the perfect choice. With an estimated 95-tonne payload and 800㎥ volumetric capacity, an A350F would offer an attractive alternative to Boeing’s 777-200F and 747-8F.
It is estimated that the programme would around $2 to $3 billion and would only go ahead if 50 orders were secured. Faury commented that the manufacturer is in no rush to build the aircraft stating: “When it comes is not yet defined.”
A Freighter Foray
The new aircraft would represent Airbus’ first foray in to a factory-built wide-bodied freighter. An A380 Freighter was first offered back in 2005 as a competitor to Boeing 747F. The type was even displayed on the companies website until January 2013 but sadly it never made it from the drawing board.
While the pandemic has created a huge upsurge in cargo operations, analysts have warned the market is volatile and could be prone to extended downturns in the future. And with aircraft manufacturers now offering competitive passenger to cargo conversions for many of their jets, it remains unclear if there is the demand for a factory-fresh freighter.
Indeed, at the Paris Air Show in 2015, Airbus announced that they would begin offering a conversion programme for both their A320 and A321 models.
One carrier using the type is Latvia-based Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, and Insurance (ACMI) company SmartLynx. There are many advantages to the Airbus A321 aircraft, especially in the freight field,” the airlines CEO Zygimantas Surintas explained. “Currently we have two aircraft that went through the conversion program and by 2023 we plan to add eight more aircraft to our freight operations.”
The number of conversions for the A320/A321 is gradually increasing, with operators keen to use the type to replace its main competitor, the ageing Boeing 757 freighter. “The A321 aircraft’s fuel burn is the lowest in class – massive 20% lower than the 757 model and the direct operational costs are significantly lower. These are key numbers that allow companies save substantial amounts,” continued Surintas.