FedEx’s crystal ball was clearly having an off-day when it churned out predictions for the Airbus A380 freighter 15 years ago. The US express cargo giant, once the launch operator of the A380F, expected to take delivery of the aircraft in 2008, enthused about a -900 stretched cargo variant, and forecast that passenger-to-freighter A380s would arrive by 2020.
None of this came to pass, of course. Unable to offer sufficient capability or logistical convenience to compete with the Boeing 777F and 747-8F, the A380F remained an artist’s impression, airbrushed almost as completely from Airbus’s archives as it was from its order book.
But FedEx’s prognostication, to be fair, was not entirely for the birds. Just as the dedicated freighter was going out of fashion, there are suddenly not enough aircraft with ‘F’ suffixes to go round.
No sooner had Antonov’s colossal An-225 been restored to flight status than it was pressed into counter-pandemic service. Alaskan cargo hub Anchorage has become the world’s busiest airport. And in a locked-down world, passenger seats are simply taking up perfectly good box space.
So the A380 finally – and almost as FedEx foresaw – seems poised to make its debut, in 2020, in the role of a passenger jet-turned-freighter, albeit as something of an understudy to the original A380F concept.
Economic analysts have not been as kind to the A380 as its passengers. But curiously, at a time when its greatest supporters – the fare-paying public – are unable to fly, the A380’s participation in a global humanitarian exercise will probably silence the cynics for a while. Hands up if you saw that coming.