Airbus A380 Freighter delayed as Emirates switches orders to passenger variant

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Max Kingsley-Jones / London

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The Airbus A380 Freighter suffered two blows last week – the programme has slipped by six months and Emirates has switched its orders to the passenger version because of a delay in finalisation of the aircraft’s specification.

The first A380-800F was due to be delivered to launch operator FedEx Express in August 2008, but Airbus confirms this has slipped to early 2009. This significantly reduces the gap between the A380F and rival Boeing 747-8F, which is due to enter service in late 2009.

“[Last May] we announced that the whole A380 programme has slipped by six months, and the new delivery date for the first A380F is early 2009,” says Airbus. “There has been one single delay to the programme.”

However, as late as last Septem-ber, FedEx, which has 10 Engine Alliance GP7200-powered A380Fs on order, was expecting to receive its first three freighters in 2008. Speaking at the Cargo Facts 2005 conference last September, David Sutton, managing director of aircraft development, acquisitions and sales in FedEx’s A380 programme office, said its first three aircraft would be delivered between August and September 2008.

Sutton now says that “due to the overall programme delay at Airbus, we now expect to receive our first A380F in early 2009”. He adds that, despite the slip, “the specification development for the Freighter is progressing very well”.

Meanwhile, Emirates, which was the only non-package carrier or leasing company customer to hold firm orders for the A380F (the other customers are FedEx, United Parcel Service and International Lease Finance), has switched its contract for two freighters to the passenger version, taking its orders to 43 aircraft, plus two on lease.

“Final definition and specification freeze were proving elusive,” says Emirates president (airline) Tim Clark. “We needed to protect our delivery positions and switched the order to the passenger version. Once the freighter is ready, we will have another look.”