Airbus anticipates A350F demand growth

Source: Airbus A350F - ©Airbus SAS 2022

Airbus is primed for A350F growth this year with potential for orders from customers in Asia and the US.

Asia and the US both hold promise for new orders of the A350 freighter, according to the aircraft manufacturer.

Senior director freighter marketing Bernard de l’Estoile notes that Airbus is currently in consultation with a number of airlines on potential orders.

“We hope for more orders this year. Those could come from Asia or the US because they are two big markets where we have seen a lot of interest,” says de l’Estoile.

He highlights the booming e-commerce market as a driver for A350F demand too.

“Clearly China is a big region for air cargo and a big region for this category of freighter. So obviously we are looking at that market.”

To date there has been a steady stream of A350F orders, now totalling 55 from 10 customers, many of them combination carriers that already have the A350 passenger model in their fleet.

Of course, one of the draws of the A350F is that, having been developed to mirror the passenger A350 – which began operating in 2013, airlines were familiar with its capabilities.

“That commonality makes a lot of sense for the airline to integrate the A350F into their operations,” points out de l’Estoile.

Recent orders demonstrate airlines are not put off by Airbus’ decision to shift the entry into service date for the A350F into 2026.

Starlux Airlines, whose fleet currently includes five A350-900s, placed an order in February for five A350Fs, with options for another five.

A few months earlier, in December 2023, Airbus secured an order from Turkish Airlines for five A350Fs, to add to its current 19 A350-900s.

In the same month, Cathay Cargo placed an order for six of the aircraft, with the right to order 20 more. The carrier currently has 29 A350-900s and 16 A350-1000s.

Air France-KLM Group also ordered four A350Fs in January 2023 for operation by Martinair on behalf of KLM Cargo and currently has 29 A350-900s in service.

This followed a December 2021 order for four A350Fs to be operated by Air France, with the order confirmed in April 2022.

In February 2022, Singapore Airlines firmed up an order for seven A350Fs, Silk Way West Airlines ordered two of the model in June that year, while Etihad Cargo firmed up an order for seven two months afterwards.

Air France – ©Airbus SAS 2022 – computer rendering by FIXION

Then back in November 2021, US lessor Air Lease ordered seven A350Fs and shipping firm CMA CGM ordered four for CMA CGM Air Cargo, but the order was doubled this April.

According to Airbus’ orders and deliveries data there have been no new orders since Starlux, but de l’Estoile reflects: “We are very happy about where we are today. The pace of the orders that are coming in is quite extraordinary.”

Design draws

The A350F has a range of nearly 9,000 km and equal volume to the 747F. The aircraft has up to 111 metric tons of payload – five tonnes more than the 777F.

It also has 40% lower fuel burn and CO2 emissions compared to the 747F and up to 20% less CO2 emissions than the 777F.

The higher payload capability of the aircraft aids efficiency. “The higher the payload the more you’re going to divide fuel consumption per kilo. This is also part of the efficiency of the aircraft,” says de l’Estoile.

An extensive feedback and design review process was implemented following the first studies for the freighter version of the A350 in 2015, before the freighter’s eventual launch in 2021.

The main change after feedback was the widening of the freighter door to speed up aircraft turnaround times. As de l’Estoile explains: “The door’s width is 175 inches, which is 25 inches wider than the 777F. This saves time loading and unloading the aircraft.”

Another major modification was the air conditioning system, which was divided between the payload part of the aircraft and other areas, including as the cockpit and crew rest. This design is particularly useful in the transport of live animals, says de l’Estoile.

He adds that Airbus is “constantly looking to make the A350F more capable and efficient to better match customer expectations” by improving the wings and engine integration and digitalisation of operations.

Newbuild market healthy

The range of freighter conversion options for airlines has increased in recent years, but de l’Estoile says this won’t impact newbuild freighter demand because each caters to different markets.

“If you’re using the aircraft for short distances, and that drives low utilisation, then a converted aircraft makes a lot of sense.

“It’s a lower capital investment you don’t care so much about the fuel burn because the utilisation is low then fuel costs are not so impactful.

“But as soon as you start to fly long distance, carry high loads and boost your utilisation, a brand new aircraft will be very quickly more efficient than a converted aircraft.”

On the subject of whether retiring freighters will balance out entry of new freighters and therefore capacity, de l’Estoile says it is pertinent to remember that overcapacity occurs in cycles.

He notes that as several older aircraft models are in service there are a significant number of ageing fleets and this combined with healthy forecasted demand means “there’s plenty of room for new capacity to enter the market”.

“Overall, there’s a long-term growth and (over) capacity will be absorbed,” he adds.

Similarly, the ups and downs of demand should be considered against the long-term lifespan of a freighter.

“People get scared when we get down cycles and super excited when we get up cycles. But it’s a cyclic industry and the long-term growth is there,” stresses de l’Estoile.

“You need to look at the next 12 to maybe 25 years when it comes to a freighter aircraft programme. Because the average age for a freighter is 25 years.”

The roll out of the A350F and other new freighter models is all the more important with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aircraft CO2 emissions standard, which stipulates that in-production aircraft which by 2028 do not meet the standard will no longer be able to be produced unless their designs are sufficiently modified.

This affects production of the 767F and 777F, points out de l’Estoile.

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Demand outlook

In its Global Market Forecast (GMF), last published in June 2023, Airbus predicted there will be global demand for 2,510 freighter aircraft during the period 2023-2042.

920 of these will be newbuild and 1,590 will be conversions, meaning conversions will account for over 60% of new freighters over the next 20 years.

600 of the total freighter aircraft will be large widebody (more than 80 tonne) aircraft, 890 will be mid-size widebody (40 tonne – 80 tonne) aircraft, and 1,020 will be single aisle (10 tonne – 40 tonne) aircraft.

This will see the world freighter fleet in service reach 3,230 aircraft by 2042.

World air cargo traffic is expected to rise by 3.2% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) during the 2019-2042 report period.

“All regions are set to grow, but Asia Pacific will be the largest region,” says de l’Estoile.

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Rebecca Jeffrey

Rebecca Jeffrey
New to aviation journalism, I joined Air Cargo News in late 2021 as deputy editor. I previously worked for Mercator Media’s six maritime sector magazines as a reporter, heading up news for Port Strategy. Prior to this, I was editor for Recruitment International (now TALiNT International). Contact me on: [email protected]