Earlier this year, Airbus launched a much-anticipated freighter version of its newest widebody aircraft, the A350. Challenging Boeing’s domination in the cargo market, the plane is set to offer a 10% larger freight volume compared to the 777F. While no customer has officially been announced, Airbus targets the A350F’s entry into service by 2025.
The airfreight business is booming. A recent container shortage crisis has caused shipping times to double. Combined with the continued rise in e-commerce, the global air cargo market is expected to reach $376.8 billion by 2027. That is an increase of over $100 billion since just before the turn of the decade. Airbus, it would seem, has launched its A350 freighter just in time.
Recent guest at Simple Flying’s online conference, the Future Flying Forum, and Managing Editor of Leeham News and Analysis, Scott Hamilton, spoke to Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer at IATA’s annual general meeting last month and got some more insight into the A350F project.
“The market dynamic that has given birth to this program is one, the very fact, and I think that’s the most important one, that it is some of our customers who came to us and said, this looks like a really good idea. This wasn’t a bunch of guys somewhere in an office in Toulouse saying, ‘Oh, let’s do a freighter.’ This was a market-generated demand stimulated by the fact that I think the market felt it needed competition,” Scherer told Hamilton as reported by Leeham News and Analysis.
Emission standards changing the playing field
The competition to which Scherer, and the market, are referring is, of course, a challenge to the hegemony of Boeing in the freighter arena. As the Airbus CCO further stated, an ICAO mandate has made it clear that older Boeing 767s and 777s won’t meet forthcoming emission standards and, therefore, cannot be produced beyond 2027.
Boeing is also expected to launch a freighter version of its new flagship widebody, the 777X but has yet to announce any official timeline. While there has been speculation that Boeing could respond to the A350F launch with an announcement at the Dubai Air Show next week, at the moment, it seems highly uncertain this will be the case, Scott Hamilton says.
Meanwhile, Scott Hamilton’s colleague, Bjorn Fehrm, sat down with Airbus’ Head of Freighter Marketing, Crawford Hamilton (no relation), to discuss more technical specifications of the plane.
“We have taken extra care to make the door larger and the floor extra sturdy to ease loading planning and execution. The A350F will be the freight forwarder’s preferred machine,” Crawford Hamilton told Fehrm.
The A350F, a reinforced version based on the A350-1000 airframe, will reportedly beat the 777F in payload by 4.5% – 109 vs. 103.7 tons. This is much due to its longer fuselage, providing a 10% larger freighter volume. Meanwhile, it will also be lighter than the 777F by 20 tons and powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB 97k engines, which Airbus says will provide better economics than the competition.