Despite a massive interest from airlines in its development, the launch customer for Airbus’ A350 freighter version is yet to be revealed. However, sources say that a delegation from Cargolux recently visited the manufacturer’s headquarters in Toulouse. Keen observations from the flight radar suggest Airbus took the opportunity to introduce the carrier to the latest addition to its A350 family.
After years of speculations, Airbus finally formally launched a cargo version of the A350 in July this year. The manufacturer, hoping to take on Boeing’s hegemony on the freighter market, was very hush-hush about the potential first customer or number of letters of intent.
When the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, Christian Scherer, spoke at the Airbus summit in Toulouse in September, he confirmed that the program had garnered strong interest and that it was selling well. However, Mr Scherer did not offer any further details. Meanwhile, eagle-eyed aviation enthusiasts think they may have solved the mystery of one of the A350F’s first buyers.
Call sign clues
According to aeroTELEGRAPH and Toulouse-based Twitter-handle @frenchpainter, the latest test flights have been given the call sign CARGOLUX. The Luxembourgian cargo carrier operates an all-Boeing 747 fleet, so winning their custom would be a big feather in the hat for Airbus.
We have a winner! 🥳 https://t.co/4ytyWvGAYp
— Aviation Toulouse (@Frenchpainter) October 21, 2021
The aircraft in question is an A350-1000 registered as F-WMIL. It has performed a number of test flights since the beginning of the year, but it seems to have been the latest one operated on October 21st that is the cause of excitement.
While Airbus never discusses ongoing dealings with potential customers, sources behind the scenes in Toulouse told aeroTELEGRAPH that a delegation from Cargolux had visited the planemaker’s headquarters.
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Current plans are to have the newest member of the A350 family in service by 2025, although no official orders have yet been received. The freighter version of the A350 was developed after extensive pressure from carriers looking to diversify their cargo operations. With the airfreight market booming, order announcements could be just around the corner. This would be a terrific thing for Airbus, having clocked only one aircraft order last month.
777X freighter competition
The A350F is set to take on an upcoming 777X freighter version. By far the airfreight market leader with its top-selling 767s, 777, and 747 cargo jets, Boeing is sure to argue that the 777X is more compatible with an already existing infrastructure.
However, with the new Triple Seven flagship program hitting delay upon delay, customers may be swayed to opt for the rival widebody. Sources have previously said the A350 freighter will carry 109 tonnes compared to the tentative 777X freighter plans for 115 to 117 tonnes.
Cargolux is one of Europe’s leading airfreight operators. The carrier has a fleet of no less than 30 Boeing 747s – 16 747-400Fs, and 14 747-8Fs. The company’s slogan is ‘You name it, we fly it’, and they transport about 3,000 horses per year, along with the odd elephant.
What do you make of last week’s flight above Toulouse? What other customers do you think will place orders for the A350F? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.