Airbus subsidiary says personnel numbers will increase by 2006 to meet production transport demands of its parent

Outsize freight specialist and Airbus subsidiary Airbus Transport International (ATI) is to increase its cockpit crew base by nearly 10% to cope with a planned hike in production rates by the European airframer.

Bruno Gutierres, transport business development director of the Airbus division, says cockpit crew numbers will increase to about 38 up to 2006 to meet the increased demands of Airbus, which plans a major increase in production over the next two years.

Gutierres says ATI has 35 pilots and flight engineers operating five modified A300-600 Super Transporter (ST) Beluga aircraft, which transport sections of unassembled Airbus aircraft within Europe between 10 sub- and final-assembly lines. Last week saw the 10th anniversary of the Beluga's first flight, which took place on 14 September 1994. Entry into service took place in January 1996.

ATI, a registered airline in France, also performs external work carrying items of freight too large to fit into any other aircraft. Last year it operated 17 external transport flights, mainly on behalf of space, aeronautical and military industries.

ATI managing director Louis Germain says about the same number of external flights will be performed this year because "we have to limit our external work" to ensure the Airbus commitments are met. "The priority of the Beluga is for the use of Airbus," he says. "We are interested in providing commercial services to the market... but we limit ourselves to [freight] that cannot be carried on any other aircraft."

Although the five aircraft are not flying anywhere near capacity - at only 900-1,000h per year each - their operations are limited partly because of crewing issues and partly because "we don't want to take any risk to the Airbus work by providing external work".

At one point ATI also looked at selling A300-600STs to independent outsize cargo carriers, but Germain says a business case could not be made by any operator. The cost would have been around $200 million per aircraft. "We tried in the past to approach big cargo operators," he says, "but we have not found an operator that was able to buy the aircraft and get good revenue with such a niche market."

Airbus says A320-family production will increase from 20 to 30 aircraft a month by the first half of 2006, and A330/A340 production will grow from six to eight a month by the second quarter of next year.



Source: Flight International