Will The Airbus A350F Encourage Boeing To Launch The 777XF?

Speaking at a recent earnings call, Airbus Chief Guillaume Faury said that his company hopes to offer an A350 freighter, pending board approval. The decision is the result of customer feedback for increased competition and follows months of speculation and public ‘encouragement’ from one particular airline CEO. So, now that a next-generation Airbus freighter is on the way, will Boeing follow suit?

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For quite some time now, Boeing has dominated the freighter market with its 777F and 747-8F. Photo: Altair78 via Wikimedia Commons 

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777X freighter “in the near term”

During its own earnings call on Wednesday, Boeing had much to report on while also facing many questions from the media and investors. Among the flurry of inquiries were two questions regarding the 777X and the development of a freighter variant.

The first came in the form of a question regarding a return to R&D (research and development) investment. To that point, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun offered the following tidbit on the development of a 777X freighter:

“…and I hope in the near relatively near term a freighter version of that airplane. We are going to be very busy and have been very busy on the development front and spending a fair amount of money on it.”

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When launching the 777X program, Boeing began its efforts on a passenger variant with a focus on a longer -9. The -8 has taken a backseat in the development process. Photo: Dan Nevill via Wikimedia Commons 

The second freighter-related question was more direct, inquiring about how Boeing plans to address the threat of an Airbus A350 freighter. To that, Calhoun said:

“We need to develop a new ICAO-compliant freighter version opportunity. I circled the 777X as the logical place for that, and the smart place to do that. So, as I said, without suggesting that we’ve already launched it or that we have one planned by the day, we’re confident, and I’m confident that might be the next of our work programs, and it’ll be an incredible freighter with incredible long term advantages for our major customers.”

Building on 777F success

While Airbus’ recent news may be generating a greater sense of urgency for Boeing, the US planemaker shouldn’t have too much of a challenge developing a freighter variant of its 777X. Indeed, the company has had a long history of producing OEM freighters.

According to Boeing’s website, the company has logged orders for 278 777Fs. Since first placing an order in 2006, FedEx appears to be the largest customer for the type, having ordered 47 of these freighters.

Qatar Airways and its cargo division is also a major customer for the type, taking three in a simultaneous delivery at the start of the year. The airline’s CEO has been vocal about wanting a new freighter from either Airbus or Boeing. In fact, in June, we reported on rumors that Qatar’s chief had actually been offered a 777X freighter option. To this news, a Boeing spokesperson simply acknowledged that the company continues to engage with its customers on its product development programs and long-term fleet needs.

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Sources indicate that the A350 freighter will be based on the stretched -1000. This makes sense as the jet offers greater capacity at a cost to range. Photo: Pedro Aragāo via Wikimedia Commons 

At the end of the day, it sounds all but certain that a 777X freighter is on the way. News of Airbus’ A350F launch makes it all the more important for Boeing to overcome its certification challenges in getting its passenger variant to market. With Boeing’s CEO saying that the company is “subjecting the airplane to a comprehensive test program designed to demonstrate its safety and reliability as well as meet all applicable requirements.”

Once these hurdles are overcome, Boeing, with its solid history of freighter production, should be able to get a next-generation widebody cargo jet to market without more complications.

Which freighter variant do you think would be more popular? An A350 cargo aircraft or one based on the 777X? Let us know in the comments.

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