For years, Airbus played second fiddle in freighter construction programs, trailing market leader, Boeing. But now, the European frame maker has set itself an ambitious goal: In the large commercial freighter segment, and not just there, Airbus wants to secure a market share of between 40% and 60%. Boeing is countering these plans with its B777-8F.
The looming race between both plane makers began on a clear date: 29JUL21, when Airbus announced the program launch of its A350F large freighter. Almost to the day, six months later, during a ceremony in Washington’s White House, Boeing disclosed its intention to build the B777-8F. There, launch customer, Qatar Airways, highly honored by the choice of venue, firmly ordered 34 B777-8F and signed a letter of intent for 16 additional units.
Since that moment in time, both manufacturers have been heavily knocking on airlines’ doors to secure firm orders or at least collect letters of intent for their respective products. Thanks to Qatar Airways’ vote in favor of the B777-8F, Boeing has taken the lead. However, to date, the Gulf carrier is the only customer on the U.S. manufacturer’s all-cargo aircraft order book.
Listening to customers
In contrast, Airbus reports 29 orders for its A350F, signed by five airlines and leasing companies. This already corresponds to a market share of 19% for large freighter orders.
The program is based on customer demand, emphasizes Crawford Hamilton, Airbus’ Head of Freighter Marketing. “We asked airlines which future freighter would fit their needs best, and according to these market requirements, our experts designed the jetliner.”
This intensive exchange with the industry before the program was kicked off, could have a positive effect on orders and sales, market observers expect.
A look at the performance data presented by Airbus and Boeing reveals some interesting differences, particularly in terms of range and kerosene consumption. For example, a fully loaded A350F (109 tons) can fly 4,700 nautical miles (8,700 km) nonstop, vs 118 tons and 4,400 nm (8,150 km) that the B777-8F is able to cover. “This allows Airbus operators to fly Hong Kong - Anchorage nonstop at full payload,” states Mr. Hamilton.
Further to this, Airbus claims that the A350, powered by the Trent XWB engines built by Rolls Royce, is the most ecofriendly freighter in the market, delivering fuel efficiency and life cycle costs in after sales. “Compared to the B747-400F, the A350F burns 40% less kerosene,” says the Airbus manager.
The aircraft is equipped with an extra-large main deck cargo door, placed further down the wing. This prevents the jetliner from tipping over from a sudden shift in weight during loading or unloading.
The freighter will be built in Toulouse and take off to its first commercial flight in the fall of 2025. Singapore Airlines is expected to be one of the launching operators.
Boeing counters that its upcoming B777-8F sets new records as the world’s largest twin-engine cargo jet ever built. It offers the highest payload capacity in its class and a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency compared to the B747-400F.
Two main advantages
Particularly the significantly lower kerosene consumption of the A350F vs. the B777-8F could play into Airbus’ hands in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and operating costs. The entire aviation sector is under mounting pressure from politicians and the broad public to drastically reduce its CO2 footprint, evidenced for instance by the fast-accelerating SAF discussion. An issue also raised by Crawford Hamilton in the bilateral talk with CargoForwarder Global; he sees his freighter clearly ahead in terms of environmental compatibility.
According to Airbus' current market forecast, 2,400 new freighters will enter service between now and 2040. In addition to the smaller and medium-sized segments with payloads of up to 80 tons, there is demand for 540 large freighters. Airbus aims to secure a market share of 40-60%. Hence, for the A350F sales force there is still a lot of lobbying to do.
Faury confirmed as CEO
Airbus further announced that the renewal of the Board mandate of Guillaume Faury as Executive Director, was approved by the shareholders at the Annual General Meeting in Amsterdam on 12APR22. Subsequently, the Board of Directors confirmed Mr. Faury as CEO for another 3 years, following the AGM event.
The French national has been leading the Group since April 2019, and this confirmation is sweetened by a 10% increase in his total compensation. This consists of a base salary of 1.5 million euros per year, variable components, and various share packages of more than 550,000 euros. In fiscal 2021, Faury's base salary was 1.35 million euros.
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