A worker checks cargo in the hold of a Boeing Co 777-300ER passenger plane, operated by Air France-KLM, before departure to Los Angeles, U.S., at Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy, France, on Monday, May 10, 2021.
Nathan Laine | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Airbus is weighing the development of a freighter version of its wide-body A350 aircraft, the European manufacturer’s chief commercial officer said Tuesday, a move that could take on rival Boeing in the air cargo market.
The air freight market has been a bright spot during the Covid pandemic. Rates surged after the virus and travel restrictions devastated passenger travel, taking airplane belly space out of the market, creating a supply crunch. Snarls at ports have also boosted demand for air cargo.
“That has somewhat exacerbated the fact that the freighter market is underserved by Airbus today,” Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said on a webcast briefing. “Many of our customers have told us, ‘You have been a formidable force in this industry. … Please do so on the freighter market as well.’ That’s an important message to take into account.”
Scherer declined to provide details on when the company would make a decision but said “we have some wind in our sails toward seeing the emergency of an A350 freighter.”
Air cargo demand in April, the latest available data, rose 12% compared with April 2019, before the pandemic, and topped a 2018 peak, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Airbus rival Boeing produces several freighter aircraft, such as the 747 and 767, for customers UPS, FedEx and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, contractor for Amazon’s air arm, as well as airlines that have both passenger and air cargo businesses.
The pandemic has also fueled a surge in demand for the conversion of retired passenger aircraft into freighters.