Airbus Reportedly Just Weeks Away From A350 Freighter Launch

Airbus has openly discussed its considerations for a freighter version of the A350, noting that Boeing’s monopoly in the cargo market is ripe for disruption. Now, it seems the project could be moving ahead, as the planemaker is said to be in talks with more than a dozen airlines about the plane. Subject to board approval, the A350F could begin marketing at the end of this month, with a formal launch by the end of the year.

Qatar Airbus A350
One of the world’s most capable widebodies could soon enter the cargo market. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A350F could be launched by the end of the year

It’s been one of the most talked-about developments in aviation this year, and it looks like it’s almost certainly happening. Airbus’ pitch to disrupt Boeing’s monopoly on the freighter market continues to push forward, with Bloomberg reporting today that the planemaker could begin taking orders for the A350F as soon as next month.

According to an inside source, Bloomberg says that Airbus is in discussions with more than a dozen potential customers for the jet. The planemaker will need to seek approval from its board to begin formally marketing the aircraft in the coming weeks. Any further development will be dependent on being able to secure enough firm commitments from airlines.

If everything goes to plan, the A350F could officially launch by the end of the year. It would be a major strategic move for Airbus, which has long lagged behind Boeing in terms of its freighter products. While Boeing offers most of its product line in cargo variants, Airbus has only ever offered the A300 and A330-200F.

800th A330 delivered – an A330-200F for HNA Group
The A330F hasn’t been a top seller. Photo: Airbus

In terms of market share, Boeing has a clear upper hand with more than 760 cargo aircraft ordered to date, and that number doesn’t include its ‘combi’ aircraft. In contrast, Airbus has sold just 38 A330F, with a backlog of none. Speaking at its first earnings call this year, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury noted that more competition was needed, commenting,

“We are looking at that segment very seriously. We think it’s not healthy to have one player on the market. We want to bring our contribution to that market situation.

“We don’t like the idea that we are not active in that segment, and that’s probably an area where we will be more aggressive and where we will invest, moving forward.”

The CEO also noted that there is an underlying demand for an Airbus freight aircraft, with the A350, in particular, exhibiting all the characteristics of a great cargo plane. Sources have suggested that a cargo variant would be based on the A350-900, but that it could be stretched slightly over the passenger version.

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Will airlines order the A350F?

Right now, cargo is the biggest bright spot in aviation, with eCommerce booming amid the pandemic. This is not a trend that is expected to reverse anytime soon, even as the world begins to open up again. In Boeing’s latest Commercial Market Outlook, it projected a demand of 2,430 cargo aircraft in the next 20 years, 930 of which would be widebody aircraft.

The A350F would be a high capacity, high-efficiency cargo plane, capable of traveling long distances across the globe. It would compete directly with the 777F and, in some ways, with the 747-8F. However, the 747-8F is out of production, with the final jets going to Atlas Air, so only the 777F remains an in-production competitor.

Korean Air Cargo Boeing 777F Getty
The 777F has been a popular workhorse, but is older technology now. Photo: Getty Images

Although the 777F is a highly capable aircraft, its underlying technology is a generation behind the A350. Airbus states that the A350-900 is around 30% more fuel-efficient than the 777-200ER. Although the 777F is based on the -200LR, the savings are likely to be commensurate, more or less.

As such, there is no more efficient aircraft currently in play that could compete with an A350F. Boeing could upset the applecart with the launch of a 777XF, but the jury is still out on that front. With that in mind, Airbus could see a solid level of demand for airlines looking to replace aging 777Fs who are already in the Airbus ecosystem, such as Qatar, the CEO of which has already said he will be at the front of the queue for any new freighter aircraft.

Do you think Airbus should press ahead with the A350F? Let us know in the comments.