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After months of silence, Airbus confirms A350 freighter variant

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AFTER over a year of extensive speculation in the air cargo market, Airbus has officially revealed that it will develop an A350 freighter model, writes Thelma Etim.

Following board approval, chief executive Guillaume Faury has stated that the European planemaker will add an A350 cargo version to its product portfolio. “We are responding to client feedback in this market area for improved competition and efficiency,” he confesses.

There have been no further details published regarding the projected freighter project, such as payload/range expectations, time-to-market, or expected prices.

When it comes to long-haul, wide-body freighters, Airbus lags far behind US rival Boeing. During the capacity-constrained global pandemic, B747Fs (production line now halted) and the immensely popular B777F family were in high demand.

The encouraging freighter news comes as the European planemaker announces that its gross commercial aircraft orders in the first half of this year totaled 165, compared to 365 in the first half of 2020. Following cancellations, net orders fell to 38 aircraft, down from 298 in the same period in 2020. According to a business statement, the corporation’s order backlog on 30 June 2021 was 6,925 commercial aircraft.

Despite a drop in passenger aircraft demand, the European manufacturer’s consolidated revenues increased by 30% year on year to €24.6 billion from €18.9 billion in the first half of 2020 – “reflecting the higher number of commercial aircraft deliveries [in 2021] compared to the first half of 2020,” according to the statement.

In the first half of 2020, 297 commercial aircraft were delivered, compared to 196 in the first half of 2019. This included 21 A220s, 237 A320 family planes, seven A330s, thirty A350s, and two A380s. “Revenues generated by Airbus’ commercial aircraft activities climbed by 42%, owing mostly to higher deliveries,” the statement continues.

Consolidated earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) were €2,727 million, compared to a loss of €1,559 million in 2020. Faury comments on the data, saying, “These half-year results reflect commercial aircraft deliveries, our commitment on cost containment and competitiveness, and good performance in helicopters, defense, and space” (markets).

“Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the teams’ multiple initiatives have resulted in a great half-year performance. This allows us to boost our 2021 projection despite the fact that we continue to operate in an uncertain environment.”

Airbus executives are also upbeat about the company’s capacity to deliver products and services in the near future, “assuming no further interruptions to the global economy, air traffic, or the company’s internal operations,” according to the statement. From now on, the planemaker expects to produce 600 commercial aircraft and earn an adjusted EBIT of €4 billion in 2021.

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