After a long study, Airbus was about to launch the A350F, a dedicated cargo variant of its most modern long-range jet.
According to Bloomberg, the European airframer will begin offering the aircraft to its customers in July, with an official launch by the end of the year.
The Airbus offensive would have been motivated by the fact that air cargo has been experiencing vigorous growth, mainly due to the increase in e-commerce. This in turn gained momentum during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this scenario, the company has been at a disadvantage compared to Boeing, which has several freighter models such as the 767-300F, 747-8F and 777F. It is precisely the “triple-seven” the main target of the A350F.
The current generation of the freighter will have to be upgraded by 2028 due to environmental restrictions, leaving Boeing to decide whether it will actually launch a 777X-F.
Qatar Airways’ recent push for a freighter variant of the 777X can be read as a move in favor of the A350F, as the airline considers the Airbus aircraft in its studies.
Based on A350-900
The A350 freighter will be based on the A350-900, according to sources heard by Bloomberg. However, it will be a little longer, possibly to take advantage of the internal space to accommodate more containers.
The 777F has a maximum takeoff weight of almost 350 tonnes while the A350-900 has just 280 tonnes. A freighter variant, however, would be reinforced to carry more payload.
The Boeing jet has a main deck with a volume of 518 m³ capable of carrying 27 standard pallets, in addition to the lower deck. The 777F offers a payload capacity of 103 tonnes.
Therefore, it wouldn’t be difficult for Airbus to surpass these figures and it still offers a greater range thanks to the more modern design of the A350. But certainly, the A350F will be rivaled by a new 777F, possibly based on the 777-8, with greater range and payload.
Advantage for Boeing
The entry into service of these hypothetical large-capacity freighters could occur around 2025 or 2026 if the programs are actually launched soon.
Boeing, however, would come out ahead thanks to the similarity between the two generations of the 777 and the fact that the company has a much richer portfolio of customers in this segment.
To date, Boeing has 277 firm orders for the 777F, while Airbus has only 38 orders for the A330F.