Airbus is sounding out airline support for a possible cargo version of its A350 aircraft, targeting a key stronghold of U.S. rival Boeing as e-commerce drives up demand for transported goods, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The aircraft would be the first cargo version of the latest generation of carbon-fiber aircraft and would help stabilize widebody production, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
However, its launch depends on identifying enough buyers willing to bet on fickle cargo demand amid the aviation industry’s worst crisis, which has hit airline finances.
Although it has overtaken Boeing as the world’s largest producer of passenger aircraft, Airbus has had limited success in penetrating its arch-rival’s freighter stronghold.
It has been nearly 15 years since it retired the freighter version of its A380 superjumbo and has had no freighter aircraft in its order book since December, when Turkey’s MNG Airlines canceled three A330Fs.
Boeing has delivered 202 freighters of the 777, compared with 38 of the A330 freighter version. The 747 freighter, with more than 260 units delivered, dominates commercial routes.
Industry sources estimate that Airbus would need commitments for about 50 aircraft to go ahead with a launch, with CEO Guillaume Faury focused on carrying out a major restructuring while directing resources toward a new airliner, the A321XLR.
Development is estimated to cost between $2 billion and $3 billion.