Could Airbus Offer A Cargo Version Of The A380 After All?

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Airbus is offering conversion kits to airlines to convert Airbus A330 and Airbus A350 passenger aircraft into freight carriers. The airframe builder has not ruled out offering kits to convert A380s as well.

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The A380 could be converted into a cargo carrier. Photo: Getty Images

What are the details?

In the aviation world, cargo has suddenly become a big business and perhaps the only business available to some airlines. Under normal circumstances, around 50% of all air freight is transported in the belly of passenger aircraft on standard routes. However, with the current lockdown and aircraft groundings, freight forwarding firms are finding that they cannot get enough aircraft in the skies to meet demand. So much so that prices have nearly double for most cargo routes.

This has led to some airlines reentering the cargo market for the first time in 36 years, others retrofitting old mothballed aircraft into cargo carriers, and some airlines even pulling out the seats of their passenger aircraft to fit in as much cargo as possible.

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It is this latter market that Airbus wants to develop new conversion kits.

What are the new conversion kits?

Airbus has rolled out new conversion kits for its A330 and A350 products. These ‘kits’ are a guide to removing the passenger seats, what new cargo webbing needs to be installed (purchased from Airbus or local sources), and what engineering work needs to be done.

The most significant cost will be the human hours required to unbolt each seat row and install the individual cargo pallets in their place. Some carriers with a complex premium product or luxury business class cabin may choose to leave it installed as it would take to long to disassemble. Once this conversion is complete, the aircraft will be able to transport more than double the cargo on its two decks.

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The A350 (pictured) and A330 have conversion kits currently available. Photo: Getty Images

What is different about this kit conversion model is that the aircraft doesn’t need to be flown to Airbus in France to be converted. Instead, Airbus wants operators to realize how flexible their aircraft are and have the option to convert their aircraft at their home bases.

So far, the carrier has provided a kit for the Airbus A330, capable of carrying 7.3 tonnes of cargo once converted, and the Airbus A350, which can carry up to 7.8 once the conversion is complete. The only disadvantage of these conversions is that cargo still needs to be loaded through regular passenger doors.

[This is] a way to help in the fight against COVID-19 and ensure revenues for airlines.” Airbus said to Forbes, “Helping the aviation industry address the high demand for humanitarian flights needed to transport large quantities of medical equipment and other supplies rapidly over large distances to where they are needed.”

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Could we see cargo A380s in the next few weeks? Photo: Abdallahh via Flickr

What about a conversion kit for the Airbus A380?

Interestingly, these kits open the door for the world’s first cargo Airbus A380. All A380s in the world right now are grounded and are too expensive to operate until passenger numbers return. But what if the passenger seats were removed and the aircraft was turned into a cargo carrier?

With three decks, there would be plenty of room on board to store light cargo (like PPE and medical equipment, while bulky is very light). The Airbus A380 has some flaws (and why it was never turned into a cargo before). Still, in today’s situation, an airline that is willing to make the conversion of an A380 could also make a killing in the cargo market (Hint Hint Singapore Airlines and Emirates).

According to Forbes, Airbus has not ruled out the conversion kit, and coyly said: “If there is a market, Airbus can propose a solution for any aircraft.”

What do you think? Should the A380 be converted into a cargo aircraft? Let us know in the comments.

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