Airbus says it remains committed to its A380 freighter programme, despite the threat of cancellation from its only remaining customer UPS.
UPS has 10 Airbus A380Fs on firm order, but the freighter programme - which once represented 27 A380 orders - has lost its other three customers: Emirates, FedEx and International Lease Finance (ILFC).
Speaking to Flight during a flight on board the A380 yesterday, Airbus chief operating officer, customers John Leahy said: “UPS has to decide what it wants to do. I think they will come to a conclusion in the next couple of months. If they decide to cancel, that does not mean that we will cancel the programme.”
He says the freighter slots would instead be used to accelerate the passenger programme, with the freighter following “a few years later”.
Leahy remains optimistic that FedEx, which cancelled due to timing concerns, might return to the programme: “I think FedEx could come back. They like the aircraft, it’s a good aircraft, but it has to be out and deliveries underway before we start talking. We are years away from going back to give a presentation.”
Airbus marketing vice president Colin Stuart says that concerns over timing of the freighter programme have largely contributed to the cancellations, but adds: “If I’m honest there’s probably a lack of confidence from customers over our ability to deliver the freighter.
“But we believe that this aircraft has a sensible and realistic life as a freighter.”
He says the configuration of the A380F is not a problem. While the aircraft does not have the ability to handle the non-standard outsize freight which can be loaded through the nose-door of the Boeing 747 freighter, Stuart says that this makes the 747F an “orphan” – and points out that the A380F is able to deal with all the standard pallet sizes handled by other freighter aircraft.
Stuart says that Airbus’ concentration on delivering the passenger aircraft will rebuild customers’ confidence in the freighter version. He says: “We’ll then be down the path of producing aircraft. If we’re delivering [passenger aircraft] with the [promised] range and fuel-burn then there’s a potential way through for freighter customers.”
Despite the uncertainty over the UPS order, Airbus A380 programme senior vice president Mario Heinen says that the A380F development is progressing. “The freighter is at advanced build stage,” he says.
Major component assembly and the final assembly line are due to begin during the first quarter of 2007. The first flight is scheduled to take place during the first quarter of 2009, with certification planned for the first quarter of 2010.
Airbus flight-test vice president Fernando Alonso tells Flight that all of the tests to certify the freighter, in terms of performance, handling, weight and thrust levels, have been done through the passenger certification.
“We only need to test the specific cargo features,” he says, listing examples such as netting, cargo doors and smoke detectors.
Both the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 and the Engine Alliance GP7200 will be available on the freighter. UPS has selected the Engine Alliance powerplant.