Manufacturer cites need to develop different versions as one reason for cost overrun
Airbus is working to define a revised version of the A380 freighter for United Parcel Service (UPS) following the US express package carrier's deal for up to 20 aircraft, including options.
The deal calls for 10 firm orders to be delivered between 2009 and 2012, but includes the cancellation of 37 of UPS's 50 outstanding A300-600F orders. It has 40 in service, and is to take seven more this year and a final six in 2006.
Two carriers have already ordered the A380-800 Freighter - FedEx Express with 10 orders and Emirates with two. The former will be the first to receive the aircraft, in 2008.
Airbus chief executive Noël Forgeard says that the need to develop alternative configurations of the A380 freighter was one of the reasons behind the revelation last month that there was a risk that the programme could incur an overrun beyond the $10.7 billion development cost predicted at launch. "We have to deal with two different layouts for the freighter version, which is more expensive," he says.
Airbus executive vice-president programmes Gerard Blanc says that although UPS intends to use the aircraft in the package-carrying role like FedEx, it needs a different internal arrangement that is yet to be defined: "There will be differences in the interface between the cockpit zone and the cargo zone, which is still to be designed."
UPS says it selected the A380 after an evaluation that included Boeing's latest 747 stretch proposal, the 747 Advanced Freighter. The Airbus "was the right fit for our international volume", it says.
However, UPS adds that it is still in talks with Boeing about the 747 as well as the recently launched 777-200LR Freighter for future requirements.
UPS says that the A380 was selected specifically to make the most use of its rights and slots into and out of the fast-growing China market. An engine selection will be made by year-end.
GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC & MAX KINGSLEY-JONES / PARIS