Why Is Airbus Yet To Conquer The Freight Market

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If you look at the most common cargo aircraft, you will see that Airbus is only lightly represented compared to a sea of Boeing and other aircraft. Why has the European planemaker seemingly failed to enter this market? Let’s explore.

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An Etihad A330-200F. Photo: Shadman Samee via Wikimedia

What cargo aircraft are there?

There are two main categories of cargo aircraft – reconfigured older passenger planes and brand new cargo aircraft.

Converted aircraft can come from all walks of life, from original Airbus A300s to Boeing 737s, to even Boeing 747s. Typically these are aircraft that have long since exited passenger operations, like an MD-10 or a Boeing 757. Still, because the airframe is so cheap, cargo operators can strip out the seats and deploy them on freight routes (the conversion between passenger to cargo is far more complicated but that’s for another article).

The second type of cargo aircraft is far more interesting. This is a new plane built from the ground up to be a cargo aircraft. An excellent example of this would be the Boeing 747-8F cargo plane – it’s nose opens for front-load cargo, something that is almost impossible to add to reconfigured cargo planes.

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What new cargo aircraft are there?

If you were shopping for a new cargo plane, what is on the market?

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  • The Boeing 767-300F – with 438.2 m³ of volume onboard a payload capacity of 52,700 kg (116,200 lb).
  • The Boeing 777F – with 653 m³ of volume onboard and a payload capacity of 103,000 kg (227,000 lb).
  • The Boeing 747-8F – with a huge 854.5 m³ of volume onboard, and a payload of 134,200 kg (295,900 lb)
  • The Airbus A330-200F – with 475 m³ of volume and 70,000 kg (154,000 lb).

As you can see, there are not many new cargo planes on offer, and even less are from Airbus. But if they compete with the Boeing plane by plane in the passenger market, why haven’t they jumped fully into the cargo market?

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The Boeing 747-8F is the flagship freighter aircraft at Boeing. Airbus does not offer a plane in this category. Photo: Boeing

Why Airbus has limited cargo aircraft

There are plenty of options for Airbus to choose from. It could, for one, offer a freighter based of its very popular Airbus A321 model, allowing smaller airports to have cargo delivered.

Airbus did have a crack at the large cargo market with an Airbus A380 freighter. Unfortunately, delays to the program alienated its customers and led them to purchase the Boeing 747 instead. Years later, judging by the numbers, the cargo Airbus A380 would not have been as profitable despite having more internal volume.

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The A380F would have had twin cargo doors – in the aft for the lower deck and the forward fuselage for the upper. Photo: Getty Images

This was because the airframe itself was heavier. Thus, you would use the maximum carrying capacity before using up the internal volume, which was a big no for cargo operators. Even today, Airbus A380 airframes are going to the scrapyard because no one wants to operate them.

Airbus could enter the market with an A330neo freighter, offering economics better than the current (and still in production) 767 to rival Boeing. But they lack a larger aircraft like a 777 freighter, and until they decide to convert an Airbus A350, it may be a market that they choose not to enter.

What do you think? Which airbus aircraft should be a cargo freighter? Let us know in the comments.

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