Airbus is waiting to hear whether United Parcel Service (UPS) wants to continue with its order for 10 A380 Freighters before deciding whether to pursue early development of the all-cargo variant.
The express package carrier is now the sole remaining A380F customer, following International Lease Finance's (ILFC) decision to switch its five orders to the passenger variant under a renegotiated deal that has seen all its A380 deliveries pushed back to 2013 and beyond.
Airbus says that, under the revised A380 production plan, certification of the A380F is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2009, in line with UPS's original delivery plan for the aircraft.
UPS has held talks with Airbus about the order but, according to industry sources, is also evaluating the Boeing 747-8F and 777F - the latter being the aircraft to which FedEx Express recently switched after cancelling its A380 order.
Should UPS cancel its order, Airbus may opt to shelve A380F development
Should UPS decide to cancel its order - and, according to Airbus chief operating officer John Leahy, A380 customers have that right - it will leave Airbus with no orders for the freighter. This could prompt it to shelve development of the aircraft to focus on more pressing issues, such as sorting out the passenger programme.
Leahy says the airframer has told UPS: "If you want the A380F, we'll build it for you." UPS tells Flight International: "At this point, we are still planning to purchase the aircraft."
Leahy confirmed the ILFC freighter revamp earlier this month as part of the delivery deferral. "ILFC had the right to switch its five freighters to the passenger version and it has exercised that right."
Before the original production delays last year, ILFC's A380s were scheduled for delivery from 2007. The lessor had announced the placement of two passenger A380s to Emirates, and Leahy says Airbus is now in talks with the airline about it taking those two A380s directly.
Production of the first A380F structural components, such as fuselage panels, wing and centre wing box, has begun, and 50% of the required structural design drawings have been released. At its peak, Airbus had accumulated 27 orders for the A380F from Emirates (two), FedEx (10), ILFC (five) and UPS (10).