The Airbus A380 is famously known as the largest commercial passenger aircraft in the world. But Airbus also had their sights on a different record too; to create the world’s largest capacity cargo airliner.
But why did it never take off? Let’s find out.
History of the Airbus A380 freighter
When Airbus first revealed the A380 at the 1990 Farnborough Airshow, they also had in mind a freighter variant. While the focus at the time was mainly the very impressive ‘superjumbo’, Airbus did initially take some orders for the freighter version.
Production was slated for the first freighter model, but it was suspended until delays on the more popular passenger plane could be settled. It was only after a few years of grinding through the backlog of A380 orders that Airbus quietly removed the design from their website, and essentially shut down the program.
With Airbus A380 production now over, it is unlikely that we will ever see a freighter version of this aircraft. Although with many 737s, 757s and 767s being converted into freighters, it is not outside the realm of possibility one could exist as a retrofitted model.
What were the specifications of the A380 freighter?
The A380 would have been the world’s largest flying cargo aircraft, apart from the singular Antonov An-225 Mriya.
It would have had a capacity of 150 t (330,000 lb), which would have made individual cargo cheap for each shipper, but naturally very expensive in fuel costs to take off.
The A380F also had a range of 5,600 nmi (10,400 km), which is about the distance of Manchester to Cape Town (5,300 nmi). It would have been very useful for Asia-Europe routes, flying from any destination in Europe to cargo hubs like Dubai, Hong Kong, and even Singapore from Eastern Europe.
How does it compare to the Boeing 747 freighter?
The most popular large freighter today, the Boeing 747-8F, filled the niche that Airbus was trying to cater for. However, side by side, the two aircraft had very different mission profiles:
- Boeing 747-8F can fly 137.7 t to a range of 4,120 nautical miles (7,630 km)
- Airbus A380F might have flown 150 t to a range of 5,600 nautical miles (10,400 km)
Whilst the Airbus could fly more cargo a further distance, with a payload improvement of 7% and 10% more room than the 747, it was far less fuel efficient. This means it would actually cost cargo carriers far more to operate.
“Boeing is claiming 20 percent lower trip costs, and 23% lower ton-mile costs than the A380. It attributes this to the fact that the empty weight of a 747-8F is 86 tonnes less than that of the A380F, which translates into less fuel required to move the airplane itself.” – Canadian Aviation Report into the two different freighter variants.
Airbus did also float the idea of a modular A380, one that would have a cargo deck and a passenger deck with modules that could be swapped around to cater for different requirements. In the end, the A380 was a wonderful machine that simply did not make financial sense, and a freighter version even less so.
What do you think? Would you have liked to see the A380F flying in our skies today? Let us know in the comments.