Paul Lewis/NEW YORK

Atlas Air is asking Airbus to improve A380-800 design configuration for traditional cargo operations before deciding whether to order the ultra-large aircraft. The carrier is also evaluating Boeing's new Longer-Range 747-400 as an interim solution to its need for additional lift capacity.

New chief executive Richard Shuyler acknowledges Boeing's decision to shelf the 747X leaves the A380-8000F as the only real 150t-freighter option. The company is delaying orders for the European aircraft until agreeing design changes with Airbus.

"There's a passenger model and a freighter model for express goods as FedEx would operate it. We're having to spend time with Airbus to make sure we have an Atlas model and then we'll decide as to whether we want to go with it," says Shuyler.

Atlas wants the design refined to accommodate pallets and cargo handling for upper-deck freight. The A380 cannot take 3m (10ft) pallets, with the main and upper decks limited to 2.4m- and 2m-high pallets respectively. While Atlas's late chairman Michael Chowdry indicated the carrier could order up to 20 aircraft, Shuyler says this is subject to analysis.

Also pending is Atlas' selection of a new mid-size 60t freighter to provide regional feed, with the 767-300 and A300-600 in contention: "I think both these decisions are going to be made in the next six months, perhaps sooner," says Shuyler. The carrier is looking at buying around 20 aircraft, while longer term it is looking at smaller 40t transport in the 757 class.

Atlas has exercised options on four more Boeing 747-400Fs due for delivery next year to supplement the 12 already in service and is considering converting at least one to the Longer-Range 747-400.

"Our last aircraft is due for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2002, when the 412,770kg (910,000lb) aircraft would be available, so we're taking a look at whether we want it," says Shuyler.

With the first A380 delivery seven years away, Atlas plans to decide by next year on additional capacity in the interim. It may convert the last four 747-400 options or convert more 747-200s to join the 22 now in service. It could also launch a 747-400 conversion programme with Boeing.

Source: Flight International