Last year, when the first A350-900 entered service with Qatar Airways, it received attention for the contributions the aircraft would make to the passenger experience. Comfort aside, however, Qatar Airways’ Chief Officer Cargo Uli Ogiermann tells Cargo Facts the A350 is fitting in well on his side of the company. “From a cargo perspective, we favor its lower deck design and shape that provides ample space for luggage and allows a combination of unit load devices (ULDs) for air freight.” He added that the light-weight A350, which incorporates composite materials, “is one of the most advanced aircraft that improves fuel consumption and subsequently, offers better passenger and cargo payload.”
Like other leading carriers that operate freighters alongside their passenger widebodies, QR reviews its passenger and cargo operations “collectively” to make fleet decisions. In terms of cargo capacity, Ogiermann says the carrier’s widebody fleet has an average bellyhold capacity of 16 tonnes. The bellyhold capacity of the new A350-900s, at 16 tonnes, is right on that average, as are QR’s A340-600s. At the lower end of the spectrum are its A330-300s with 13 tonnes of cargo capacity, while at the high-end are its 777-300s which he says offer 19 tonnes of belly freight payload.
Qatar Airways now has 10 A350s in service, and another 70 on order, and the new aircraft will factor heavily into QR Cargo’s strategy. The first deliveries have already been deployed on medium-to-long haul flights which have a high demand for both passengers and cargo. From QR’s base in Doha, the A350-900 already flies to cities like Munich, Frankfurt, Singapore, Adelaide, Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
Although additional A350 passenger aircraft will indeed play an important role for Qatar Airways Cargo, the decision of other carriers to introduce A350s will have a varying impact on their cargo operations, especially for those that do not operate freighters. Today only 36 of more than 810 A350s (in three variants, -800, -900 and -1000) are in service (see chart below) meaning that the majority of the A350’s impact on cargo has yet to be felt.
Finnair is a prime example of a carrier that relies exclusively on belly space to move cargo between Europe, Asia and North America, and it will see significant gains in cargo capacity by the addition of A350s to its fleet. Until recently, Finnair has utilized its passenger fleet of A330-300s and A340-300s for long-haul cargo transport. Since the beginning of this year, Finnair has already taken delivery of six A350-900s, and has 13 more A350-900s on firm-order. By the end of 2020, the airline expects a 50% boost to its cargo capacity as a result of the added A350s.
Other carriers may benefit more from the increased fuel efficiency and performance of the lightweight A350, rather than from additional capacity, depending on their particular route structure and typical cargo density, and what aircraft the A350s are replacing in their fleets.
Still, as deliveries of all types of widebody passenger aircraft continue, so total cargo capacity will continue to grow.