Airbus delivers 800th A330 but freighter sales stay slack

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Hong Kong Airlines is to operate the 800th Airbus A330 to roll off the production line at Toulouse.

The airline, part of HNA Group, is taking the A330-200F, a freighter version of the twinjet, via leasing firm Aircastle Advisor. It was handed over in a ceremony on 13 July and will be the third of its type to join the Hong Kong Airlines fleet.

Delivery of the aircraft comes as another lessor for the type, Intrepid Aviation, laid down initial plans to convert a number of slots for the A330 freighter to passenger aircraft.

Intrepid has 20 of the freighters on its order backlog but Intrepid senior leasing executive Jean-Marc Imbert said the company, with Airbus's consent, may switch "some of the slots" to the passenger version.

Imbert cites the delay to the Boeing 787 and a consequent "huge demand" for passenger aircraft of a similar size. "We saw an advantage," he said.

Without detailing how much of its freighter backlog might remain intact, Imbert added that Intrepid was "still committed" to taking delivery of "some of these".

Conversion would be a dent in the A330-200F programme, which has not experienced strong sales.

Airbus's figures since 2007, when it first started taking orders for the type, indicate the A330-200F had landed 88 gross orders to June 2011. However, Airbus shows only 57 net orders, suggesting 35% of the total has eroded.

Only three were sold in the first half of this year, to Turkish Airlines, and four in the whole of 2010 - a combined total which was wiped out by the cancellation of 12 by India's Flyington Freighters earlier this year.

In contrast, the passenger A330-200 has logged 566 orders and the A330-300 another 517, taking orders for all variants of the twinjet to 1,140, with 46 delivered in the first half of 2011.