Etihad Airways signs letter of intent for seven Airbus A350 freighter jets

The announcement was made at the Singapore Airshow 2022

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - - -  June 1, 2016 --- An Etihad Airways Cargo airplane is loaded at Abu Dhabi International Airport on Wednesday, June 1, 2016.     ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )  
ID: 78835
Reporter:  none
Section: BZ
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Etihad Airways signed a letter of intent for seven Airbus A350 freighter jets as the air cargo market continues to boom.

The airline, which has a fleet of five A350-1000 passenger aircraft, made the announcement at the Singapore Airshow, European plane maker Airbus said on Wednesday.

"As our cargo operations continue to overperform and we work towards a more sustainable future built upon the world’s youngest and most fuel-efficient fleet, the addition of the A350F will play a key role in driving our long-term cargo strategy and achieving our 2035 target to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 per cent," said Tony Douglas, chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group.

The announcement comes after Mr Douglas told The National at the Dubai Airshow, in November last year, that the airline was considering two new freighter models — the Airbus A350 and Boeing's 777X — as replacements for the dedicated 777 freighters it currently operates.

Boeing and Airbus are capitalising on a surge in demand for dedicated and converted freighter aircraft after the Covid-19 pandemic grounded large wide-body passenger planes used for carrying cargo.

A survey conducted between December 2021 and January 2022 of airline chief financial officers and cargo business bosses by the International Air Transport Association shows an improvement in profitability, demand, cargo and employment in the global aviation industry, which was battered by the pandemic-induced slowdown.

Cargo has been a rare bright spot for the aviation industry since the outbreak of Covid-19 two years ago, with rates increasing amid a surge in e-commerce sales and as pandemic-related supply chain bottlenecks drive up demand for air freight services.

"Etihad clearly sees the opportunity to extend its cargo activity by acquiring state-of-the-art aircraft, combining significant capacity and operational efficiency," said aviation consultant John Strickland.

"Cargo had been the saviour for many normally passenger-focused airlines during the pandemic and demand is likely to stay resilient as supply chain bottlenecks continue and demand for e-commerce grows," he added.

Etihad, which currently operates the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and will introduce the Airbus A350 passenger jet to its fleet, said in November that the belly-holds of both aircraft will play a significant role in its cargo operations.

"The Dreamliner and the A350 are going to be massive in terms of our cargo," Mr Douglas said at the time.

The A350F provides a high level of commonality with the A350 passenger versions, Airbus said on Wednesday, adding that with a 109-tonne payload capability, the freighter can serve all cargo markets.

Airbus's new cargo plane will be powered by fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines, it said.

“The world’s only new generation large freighter will be unmatched in its market segment in terms of range, fuel consumption and CO2 savings,” said Christian Scherer, chief commercial officer and head of International at Airbus.

More than 70 per cent of the A350F airframe is made of advanced materials, resulting in a 30-tonne lighter take-off weight and generating at least 20 per cent lower fuel consumption and emissions over its current closest competitor, the European plane maker said.

Updated: February 16, 2022, 2:11 PM