Airbus has created a dedicated business unit to oversee the company's growing role as a global supplier of new-built cargo aircraft and to support the conversions of its passenger jetliners to freighters.
This business unit's short-term objectives include the continued sale of Airbus' new mid-sized A330-200F, as well as assisting its current lessor customers in placing these widebody freighters with airline operators worldwide.
In the passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion sector, the business unit's goals include supporting the ongoing transformation of A300/A310 widebody jetliners, assisting in the new single-aisle A320/A321P2F conversion programme, and preparing for future freighter transformations of A330s and A340s as these widebody jetliners become available from passenger airline fleets.
Details of the new Airbus freighter business operation were outlined at this week's Airbus Air Cargo Workshop in Miami, Florida, which was attended by representatives from airlines, leasing companies, banks and investment/asset management groups.
Airbus already has a broad global customer and operator base in the cargo sector, with some 270 new-built and converted A300s and A310s in the marketplace today. These mid-sized freighters are used in regional and medium-haul service around the world, providing highly efficient operations in medium-range markets with payload capabilities of 40-50 metric tonnes.
New opportunities for freighter conversions in this category are opening up as numerous A300-600 aircraft complete their useful lives in passenger airline service. The passenger-to-freighter transformation process for A300/A310s is handled by the EFW business unit of Airbus' EADS parent company, which has the capacity to handle 20 such conversions per year at its Dresden, Germany facility.
Airbus' next step in the cargo aircraft market will be its introduction of new-production A330-200F mid-sized freighters - the first of which is to begin final assembly this summer in Toulouse, France. With a cargo payload of 64-69 metric tonnes and a range of up to 4,000 naut. mi., the A330-200F is a versatile freighter for operations on both regional and long-haul routes. Airbus currently has orders and commitments for 70 of these aircraft, with its service entry targeted for the second quarter of 2010.
Looking to the future, Airbus will pursue other widebody freighter market opportunities, with the new-production A330-200F serving as the cornerstone for potential passenger-to-freighter conversions of both A330 and A340 aircraft. Payload capacity of an A330-300P2F is expected to range from approximately 57 to 63 metric tonnes, while a four-engine A340-300P2F freighter would have a 61-62 metric tonne payload - offering high-volume capacity that is expected to be particularly attractive to express carriers.
The conversion of Airbus' single-aisle A320s and A321s has been launched for an entry into service from 2012, with the Netherlands-based Aer Cap leasing company signing for 30 such passenger-to-freighter transformations. A320P2F aircraft will carry up to 21-22 metric tonnes of cargo, increasing to as much as 28 tonnes for the A321P2F. Conversions of the A320s and A321s are handled by the Airbus Freighter Conversion (AFC) joint venture, which brings together Airbus and EADS EFW with Russia's UAC (United Aircraft Corporation) aerospace holding and the Russian Irkut company.