Package carrier reveals likely schedule for stretched version and cargo conversions

FedEx Express expects to bolster its A380 fleet with a cargo version of the planned A380-900 stretch within 10 years, and converted passenger versions of the baseline model by 2020.

Speaking at last month’s Cargo Facts 2005 conference in Seattle, David Sutton, managing director of aircraft development acquisitions and sales in FedEx’s A380 programme office, said that while the package carrier would “love to have the -900 now”, he expected a cargo version of the larger model would be available around 2014/2015 – six to seven years after it is due to receive the baseline -800F.

FedEx, which will be the launch operator of the A380-800F, is due to take its first three of 10 firmly ordered A380-800Fs between August and September 2008. Three more will follow in each of the next two years, with the final aircraft arriving in June 2011. The carrier also has at least 10 options for the aircraft.

Although Airbus has acknowledged the existence of studies into a stretched A380 derivative, it has so far been tight-lipped about providing any real detail on the plans beyond stating that the aircraft would seat around 650 passengers – 100 more than the -800.

“The -900 would have a 12 frame stretch and as a freighter it would have less range than the -800F – around 4,500nm [8,325km],” says Sutton. Although this gives it a range shortfall of around 2,000km over the 150t- payload –800F, Sutton says the –900F would still be “very good for regional and US domestic routes”.

Meanwhile, FedEx has an eye on the ex-passenger A380 fleet for the longer term, having traditionally bolstered its fleet of new-build freighters with secondhand, cargo-converted aircraft. “As the passenger airlines take the -900, they’ll push their -800s over for passenger-to freighter-conversions – probably around 2020,” said Sutton.

A converted -800 would be “a less capable aircraft” than the new-build A380-800F as it has lower operating weights, but would be “ideal for US domestic or regional missions, as well as some international flying”, said Sutton. He added that Airbus has taken the conversion of passenger A380s to freighters into consideration during the design stage, which should help to simplify the modification effort when the time arrives.

Airbus currently holds firm orders for 27 A380Fs from four customers – Emirates (two), FedEx (10), UPS (10) and lessor International Lease Finance (five). Sutton says he expects that there will be “a fleet of 200 A380 freighters in the marketplace over the next 20 years”.


Source: Flight International