Etihad Airways confirmed an initial commitment with Airbus for seven of the Toulouse-based plane maker's A350 freighters as it expects the cargo market to remain strong.
The Abu Dhabi-based airline signed a letter of intent to order the cargo aircraft at the Singapore Airshow in February. The National reported in March that the deal was expected to be confirmed by the middle of the year.
“This additional cargo capacity will support the unprecedented growth we are experiencing in the Etihad Cargo division,” Tony Douglas, group chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group, said.
Etihad Airways, which last month posted a record first-half core operating profit of $296 million, said its earnings in the first six months of the year were buoyed in part by growth in cargo revenue.
Its air cargo business remained strong, with a six per cent year-on-year rise in revenue to $802m in the first half of the year, even as freight volumes fell 19 per cent to 295,020 tonnes with belly-hold space increasingly filling up with passengers' bags.
There are “no immediate signs yet” of cargo business declining as e-commerce continues to drive demand, Adam Boukadida, Etihad Airways' chief financial officer, told The National last month.
“Simply put, if we had more cargo capacity, we could put more cargo in, the challenge we have is balancing that with passenger volumes,” he said.
Etihad opted for the fuel-efficient aircraft as it seeks to reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“We've gone for the Tesla of the cargo world, while a lot of the cargo world is still operating 1980s Ford pick-up trucks,” Mr Douglas said in an interview in March comparing the new fuel-efficient A350 freighter with older models such as the Boeing 767 and 747 freighters.
Etihad's freight order comes on top of an existing one for the A350-1000 passenger model, of which the airline has five in its fleet.
Airbus reported 442 aircraft orders, or a net total of 259 after cancellations, in the first half of 2022, up from 38 net orders in the same period last year.