Qatar Airways is in talks with Airbus about sanctioning a cargo conversion for the A330-200 as the carrier looks to redeploy its older passenger widebodies to its freight division as they are replaced.

The airline, which flies three Airbus A300-600Fs, will in May and June introduce the first two of three Boeing 777Fs it has on order. The third will arrive in 2011.

"The A300s will support the 777Fs, operating feeder services. We plan to replace the A300s with A330Fs, hopefully from 2013," says Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker.

Qatar Airways is a major A330 operator, with 16 -200s and 13 -300s in service. Although the fleet is relatively young, the arrival of Boeing 787s in around two years time and will free up some of the Airbus twinjets for a new role as freighters.

"We are speaking to Airbus about a cargo conversion for the -200," says Al Baker. "We hope to have the conversion centre in Qatar, at the new Doha airport."

Airbus is about to receive certification for its new-build A330-200F variant after a five-month flight-test effort that began last November. The 65-70t payload freighter will enter service in summer with launch customer Etihad Airways.

The airframer is working on an A330 cargo conversion programme, but the initial focus for this project will be the larger A330-300 variant as aircraft availability and pricing is more suitable in the near term, says Airbus freighter marketing manager Jonathan Lesieur. "The [Qatar Airways -200 conversions] would be an isolated case," he says.

Source: Flight International