Airbus is moving ahead with plans to build a freighter version of its A350 passenger airliner, hoping to win a share of the all-cargo widebody market long dominated by its U.S. rival, Boeing. The launch of the A350F didn’t come as a surprise, as Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury in April stressed the European airframer’s desire to boost its presence in that segment. “I do not like the idea [of remaining] weak in that segment in the future,” he said. “I think we have the right product to be able to be more aggressive in that market.”
Speaking during Airbus's first-half results presentation on Thursday, Faury confirmed the company’s board signed off on the A350 freighter derivative in response to “customer feedback for increased competition and efficiency in this market segment.” The company expects the aircraft to enter service in 2025, though it has not yet announced a launch order.
Faury provided scarce technical details, other than that the A350 F will feature a payload capability of at least “90-plus tonnes” and be a derivative of the larger A350-1000.
“We used the building blocks of what we have done on the A350-1000 mainly but not only, and also the learning, the tools, the ways of working that we have developed recently with the Belgula XL (the A330-200-based outsized cargo variant that Airbus developed to carry wings and components across its sites in Europe),” he said.
He was equally reserved on how many of the new widebody freighters Airbus aims to sell or the market share it hopes to capture with the A350F, saying only that production rates will depend on “the commercial success” of the program. “The beauty of this program is that it will be embedded in the A350 production system,” he explained. “Owing to the commonality with the A350-900 and -1000 we will put [the freighter version] in the final assembly lines of the passenger A350. So we do not plan for individual production rates for the freighter.”
Airbus raised its outlook on the back of a strong performance in first half, during which it delivered 297 aircraft—21 A220s, 237 A320 family aircraft, seven A330s, 30 A350s and two A380s. The company now expects to deliver 600 commercial aircraft in 2021, versus a previous target of at least 566. Announcing its first-half results a day earlier, Boeing said that it delivered 156 airliners in the same period.
Faury called the 297 commercial airliner deliveries in the first six months “a bit of a surprise” for the company, and he warned that while the “300 or so in the first half are done, the 300 in the second half are still to be demonstrated in a rather difficult and unpredictable environment. The Covid-19 crisis is not yet behind us.”
Airbus also doubled its full-year operating income target, to €4 billion ($4.7 billion).
Meanwhile, also on Thursday, German airline Condor announced plans to add 16 A330neos to its fleet. The company, which this week received European Commission approval for €525.3 million ($619.42 million) in financial aid from the German government, said it would buy seven of the A330s and lease another nine.