For sure, those at the Airbus plants in Toulouse and Hamburg are not happy to hear it, but the fact is that the European aircraft manufacturer has been trailing its U.S. rival Boeing in freighter production and sales for decades. However, the A350F might just bring an end to the long-lasting Airbus era of being the constant runner-up in the cargo aircraft segment. There are some strong reasons indicating a change.
Production has kicked off
Sooner or later, Airbus will eventually erect a monument to Steven Udvar-Hazy, the iconic Executive Chairman of Air Lease Corporation (ALC), since his company has become the launching customer for the A350F. At the Dubai Air Show, the lessor placed a purchase order for 7 A350Fs as part of a major Airbus order inked by both parties, thus kicking off the start of the freighter program.
When asked about the performance of the new aircraft, Crawford Hamilton, Head of Marketing Freighter Markets at Airbus in Toulouse, goes into raptures. It is a digital flying machine, he says, with mature fly-by-wire systems and proven flight characteristics. Thanks to digital technology, cargo data, such as temperature deviations when transporting vaccines or refrigerated shipments, can be read in flight. It is transmitted via satellites to the responsible ground stations or freight forwarders in real time. The A350F can carry 109 metric tons per flight and fly 8,700 km (4700 nm) fully loaded, non-stop. It is based on the platform of the passenger version A350-1000. 443 of this Airbus (pax) variant are already in daily service, operated by 49 customers. A further 487 - as of today - are on the order books.
The right freighter at the right time
But from Marketing Manager, Hamilton’s point of view, the most important aspect is that the timing of the A350F launch is perfect!
“Airlines started phasing out their Boeing 747 freighters, an aircraft conceived in the outgoing 20th century. And it is this emerging supply and capacity gap that our A350F fits perfectly into, a freighter of the 21st Century.”
And the new aircraft is also way ahead when it comes to kerosene consumption: "The A350F consumes 40% less fuel than the B747-400F, and still 20% less compared to the B777F,” the frame maker states in a release.
Olivier Casanova, CEO von CMA CGM Air Cargo also seems to be of this opinion. Last Friday (19NOV21) he announced the acquisition of 4 new Airbus A350F, that will supplement the carrier’s current freighter fleet. On the occasion he stated that this investment in an efficient and future-proof full freighter is a strong evidence of CMA CGM Group’s commitment towards air freight and providing agile solutions to take care of its customer’s cargo in the best possible way. The executive further pronounced: “The A350F will also be a major milestone towards more sustainable air cargo, with an improved fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions.”
An extremely important sales aspect – among others – is the fact that the A350F is the only available freighter of its size in the market that complies with the 2027 ICAO CO2 emissions standards as defined by the organization’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Guiding principle to push greenhouse gas emissions in aviation down, is the mandated purchase of emission units by aircraft operators, which makes the operation of older and kerosene-thirsty planes much more expensive, hence unprofitable. Corsia is therefore a conceptual cudgel and a sales argument for the A350F that should not be underestimated, Airbus reasons.
Commonality is major sales argument
Mr. Hamilton also points out another advantage for potential operators: the commonality between the A350 freighter and its passenger sister. This allows pilots to fly both variants without needing an additional type rating. This saves costs for combination airlines that have both models in their fleet.
Despite these definite selling points, the aircraft manufacturer is keeping a low profile when it comes to orders and expected sales figures. “We don't mention details,” Airbus spokeswoman Heidi Carpenter responds to probing questions. In this regard, Mr. Hamilton pushes ALC’s Chief Steven Udvar-Hazy up front, to underline that, if this world-renowned expert decides in favor of the A350F, it will have a major impact on the market. After all, the man has incredible influence within the industry.
Supposedly, he is one of the best advocates for the aircraft.
ESG fund is launched
So is John Plueger, ALC CEO and President, who delivered this statement on the occasion of the signing of the aircraft order in Dubai: “With this major order, we underscore our confidence not only in the strong future and growth of global commercial air transport, but in ALC’s business model, in our specific aircraft purchase decisions including, for the first time, the new A350 Freighter, and finally in our long-term view that ordering new aircraft is an optimum investment of our shareholder capital.” The executive further announced the first ever ESG initiative in aircraft procurement, jointly launched by the U.S. lessor and Airbus, aimed at creating a multi-million-dollar fund for sustainable aviation development projects critical for the future.
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