“Airbus is not known for producing freighters,” said John Plueger, Chief Executive of Air Lease Corporation. While its best-selling factory freighter, the A300, went out of production in 2007, its A380 never got off the drawing board and the A330-200 quickly flamed out.
Now, as airlines face a glut of wide body passenger aircraft of all shapes and sizes and a global economy reliant on air freight, the company is looking to an A350 freighter for its next airplane development and making a run at Boeing’s longstanding freighter supremacy.
“If you have a production line that’s not selling on the passenger side, why not do a freighter?” said Plueger of the A350 in a recent interview with The Air Current. ”It’s a logical thing…if you think you’ve got a reasonable freighter that you can make out of it for not too much more money, it’s a reasonable thing to do.”
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An A350 freighter is a natural segue for Airbus’s engineering teams, which are nearing the start of assembly of its first A321XLR test aircraft later this year before flying in 2022. A350 production rates are roughly half of what they were at the start of 2020 and work is already well underway for a sizable performance improvement package for its passenger models. An A350 freighter could be ready as soon as the second half of 2025, according to two people familiar with the company’s thinking .
“The freighter market is underserved by Airbus today,” said the company’s chief commercial officer Christian Scherer last week, a nod to the struggles of its factory-built A330 freighter. “We have some wind in our sails toward seeing the emergence of an A350 freighter, as we consolidate our studies and our business case.” Scherer’s boss, Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury, said Monday that the case for launching the freighter wasn’t ready. “We aren’t there yet,” he said according to Bloomberg News.
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