UPDATE – Lessor Air Lease Corporation (ALC) is the launch customer for the Airbus A350 Freighter. Executive Chairman Steve Udvar-Hazy and CEO John Plueger announced the order for seven aircraft during a press conference on Monday at the Dubai Airshow, calling in very early from Texas via Zoom. At the same time, ALC ordered another 104 aircraft, although the Letter of Intent needs final confirmation. Day 2 Dubai Airshow: ALC launches Airbus A350 Freighter.

Airbus officially launched the A350 Freighter after a Board decision in July, but without announcing any orders then. Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said in September later that the aircraft has been offered to customers “and is selling.” ALC’s order is some kind of a surprise as until now, the lessor has had not a single full freighter in its portfolio as it found the freighter market is too volatile. Now it has changed its mind as the market has changed. “E-commerce is now a stabilizing factor and it’s a growing factor. That’s why we want to have freighters now”, said Plueger. He added that ALC has always bought new aircraft and that the A350 freighter is the only new one today that meets the noise and emission regulations that are introduced in 2027.

But as both Boeing and Airbus predict a huge market for converted and new freighters, ALC has joined the bandwagon. Airbus said on Saturday it expects the freighter market to grow by 950 aircraft to 2.440 by 2040, of which 880 will be new aircraft. With many 747s, MD-11s freighters, and oldest 777s are phased out from 2025 to be converted into freighters, there is a need for new, efficient full freighters with a capable payload and range, low fuel consumption, Udvar Hazy said.

Scherer added that these efficiencies especially work on long-haul routes for which the new freighter has been designed and something a fair number of potential customers asked Airbus to do. “We are responding to a good number of cargo airlines that have told us that with the A350, said, ‘you really have a formidable platform with your design of composite panels, you have repairability, you have the structural capability that previous Airbus aircraft didn’t necessarily have, and you have an environmental, fuel-efficient aircraft to develop this freighter.’ That’s what we have done.”

The airframer said earlier this week in its global market forecast that there is demand until 2040 for 880 new full freighters.

A350 Freighter will be five frames shorter than the -1000

Until today, Airbus shared little details on the A350 Freighter except that it would be largely based on the A350-1000. Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer and CEO Guillaume Faury confirmed this. “It will be five frames shorter than the -1000”, Scherer said. The maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) will be 319 tons, with a payload capacity of 109 tons. It should have a 5.000 or, at a slightly reduced capacity, to 6.000 nautical miles range, just below the -1000. Airbus has scheduled the freighter to enter service in 2026.

Interestingly, Faury said that looking long-term, “the freighter business might be a good candidate for entry into service of single-pilot operations (SPO) and that really makes sense. Yes, the 350 is a good candidate for being the first in kind to get this because of the sophistication of the fly-by-wire and flight control system. And yes, the freighter will probably be the right place to enter it into service, although we are not directly connecting freighter and SPO.”  

Animated picture of the aircraft ALC ordered, with the new A350 Freighter on the center-left. (Airbus)

Without mentioning names, ALC has been in discussion with five leading airlines in the cargo business in the US, Europe, and Asia to place the seven A350 Freighters. As the market develops, Air Lease is likely in for more order of the type. And likely of Boeing‘s yet to be launched planned 777-8 Freighter too, although Plueger and Udvar-Hazy didn’t touch that subject during the call.

Incremental orders for narrowbodies

Air Lease has been shopping with Airbus for more aircraft. It has converted its 25 options for A220-300s from the order it placed during the 2019 Paris Airshow. It also ordered 55 more A321neo’s, 20 A321XLRs, and four A330-900s. All narrowbodies are incremental orders to ALC’s backlog while over time and confirming the strategy that the lessor wants to emphasize more in single-aisle aircraft, but it has adjusted its widebody orders in line with market demand. Most deliveries are scheduled for the second part of this decade. Christian Scherer called ALC’s order a “smart move to position itself very early for delivery slots. It underpins the demand that we see for our product line.” Scherer indicated on Sunday during the announcement of the order for 255 aircraft for Indigo Partners that the A320neo-line is sold out until 2026.

The A330neo’s have already been placed with airlines. Scherer refused to call the A330neo-order a ‘come back, as it has never been away. We are quite pleased with how the aircraft is doing in the marketplace.” Plueger confirmed this, adding that ALC has placed the type with German leisure airline Condor and Air Belgium. As happened now with the freighter, Air Lease was the launch customer for the A330neo and also was the first buyer for the A321LR and XLR, for which it has now almost 300 orders.

ALC and Airbus also launched a multi-million dollar Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) fund initiative that will contribute towards investment into sustainable aviation development projects that will in the future be opened to multiple stakeholders from the aircraft leasing and financing community and beyond.

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