The A330-200F took to the air on 5 November. This aircraft (MSN 1004), which is Pratt & Whitney PW4000-powered, will fly the 180h flight-test programme. The first aircraft for Etihad (MSN 1032), which is Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered, is in build and will be used for final checks ahead of delivery in August.
"The first aircraft will be used for two phases of test programme - for example performance calibration, handling and systems such as autopilot and smoke detection," says Airbus freighter marketing manager Jonathan Lesieur. "We'll use the first delivered aircraft for the third phase, as it will have a courier area, for specific tests such as noise, air conditioning in the courier area and the functioning of the CIDS [cabin communication system]."
Ahead of the -200F's first take-off, some ground and flight-testing was carried out using passenger A330s, says Lesieur. "We flew around 10 test flights with passenger aircraft to carry out initial tests on systems," he adds.
He says that these included measuring temperatures in the lower deck with the main deck at 5°C (41°F), as well as ground testing of the fuel system and validation of the fuel control computer. "We also tested the handling qualities when simulating the freighter's extended centre of gravity," says Lesieur.
The A330's centre of gravity is being extended by 3% over the passenger version to improve flexibility when loading freight pallets of varying weights throughout the main deck cargo bay.
Airbus test pilot Philippe Perrin, who commanded the first flight, says that the crew were keen to test the modified nose-gear arrangement during the maiden sortie. This incorporates a blister fairing to accommodate the lower leg attachment needed to ensure the aircraft sits level on the ground for loading.
"We wanted to check the operation of the new doors, which behaved very nicely," says Perrin, adding that there were no noise or buffet issues with the fairing.
The 64-69t payload freighter variant is due for simultaneous European Aviation Safety Agency and US Federal Aviation Administration certification in March.
Lesieur says the five-month interval to the first delivery is as a result of the slackening in demand for cargo aircraft combined with the high demand for passenger A330 versions.
"This meant that slots that would have been built as freighters will be delivered as passenger aircraft, but we decided to maintain the -200F's original industrial and certification schedule."
Once testing is complete MSN 1004 will be reworked for a customer and Lesieur says Airbus is in "advanced negotiations" to place the aircraft.
The A330-200F has come in around 500kg (1,100lb) lighter than expected, which Lesieur says can be used to increase the payload or "to translate into approximately 0.3-0.5% lower fuel burn".
Airbus, which holds orders and commitments for 69 aircraft from 10 customers, says that the new variant's original launch customer, India's Flyington Freighters, still holds 12 orders, but its deliveries have been "pushed back". The airframer forecasts demand for 1,600 in the A330-200F's mid-size freighter category over the next 20 years.