The Airbus A300 of which a few hundred were built between 1970 and 1990 is an aircraft which has disappeared from many minds. Originally designed as a passenger aircraft, the A300 also has a long history as a freighter. Now package delivery company UPS decided to retrofit their 52 units comprising A300 freighter fleet, this way enlarging the aircraft’s lifespan substantially.
Designed as competitor to Douglas and Boeing
Planning for the Airbus A300 began in 1969 with the first flight being carried out in 1972. Airbus saw the aircraft as being a worthy competitor at those times to the three-engined Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed TriStar. It indeed turned out to be a success and at one time held a 26 percent airliner market share. It was the world’s first twin-engined wide body airliner, offering carriers lower fuel burn and high capacity as well as ample belly space for the carriage of air cargo.
However, as is with all aircraft models, some day they become outdated when new variants which offer more capacity, better fuel burn and increased cargo volume, come online. This was also the fate facing the Airbus A300.
Freighter version became popular
Airbus decided in the late 1990s that they would offer a pure freighter version of the A300 to their customers. The aircraft was then designed as a freighter to carry between 48 to 55 tons of cargo over a distance of 7,500 kilometers, spread over 21 main-deck pallets as well as 7 lower deck pallets. The lower deck was also designed to transport a total of 23 LD3 containers instead of normal pallets.
First recipient of the A300F was FedEx who received their first ordered aircraft in 2007. Apart from the pure freighter version, there have been many conversions of passenger A300s into freighters. Official listings show that there are still almost 240 Airbus A300 aircraft in operation, of which about 150 are cargo versions. Whether these are all airworthy remains to be seen. The largest operator of the freighter is FedEx with 68 aircraft and UPS with 52 in service. FedEx is said to be phasing out the A300F as they get more B777 freighters into service.
UPS gives the A300F a new lease on life
Louisville-based UPS Airlines tends to see the A300F having a longer lifetime and will soon start taking redelivery of A300-600Fs with brand new avionics having been refitted to the aircraft. This, the carrier says, will extend the A300Fs useful life for quite a few years to come.
The first retrofitted aircraft has completed flight trials with Airbus in Toulouse, France, and is expected to be given back to UPS by early 2020. UPS has decided that all 52 of their A300 freighters will have their avionics refitted in cooperation with Honeywell. This includes bringing in a new flight management system (FMS), a completely new GPS aviation system, an updated weather radar as well as an integrated digital Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System.
It is expected to take a few years before all 52 aircraft have been retrofitted with the new systems. The UPS A300F fleet which is mainly used on U.S. domestic services has an average age of around 17 years.
The carrier is convinced that the changes will give the aircraft an operating life into the 2030’s. UPS seems to be following a policy of extending present aircraft life instead of ordering new aircraft. The exception being their order with Boeing for a further fourteen B747-8Fs. However, the carrier also has a large fleet of B757Fs and B767Fs which are also undergoing various avionics retrofits in order to keep them in the air for a further decade or two.
Beluga as freighter?
Airbus has recently completed testing of their giant ‘Beluga XL’ transporter which is based on the A330F body. This has been done as a replacement for the old Beluga which had an A300 body. The Beluga update was necessary in order that Airbus could carry two of the larger wing sections of their new A350 aircraft instead of the one which can only be transported in the old Beluga aircraft. The updated “white whale” will be put into service next year.
Questions have been raised as to whether the five updated Beluga XLs could also be used as commercial freighters in the future for the carriage of outsized cargo. It could well be that with the aircraft’s 51-ton payload and 4,000 km range, that market interest may well be there.
What will happen in the coming years with the previous Beluga fleet, also consisting of five units, is also completely open. They have been in service since 1994 and will not be phased out until 2025, Airbus said.
Guillaume Faury, who took over as Airbus CEO from long serving Thomas Enders, will be guest speaker at the Hamburg Aviation Press Club meeting to be held in the famous Atlantic Hotel on November 28th. CargoForwarder Global will pose the question there as to the future of the Beluga XL as a commercial freighter.
John Mc Donagh
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