Based on a variety of rumors, hints, and even a few public comments, Cargo Facts believes Airbus will soon announce a passenger-to-freighter conversion program for its A330 aircraft family, possibly for both the -200 and -300 variants. We expect the announcement will be made at the Paris Air Show next month, probably in conjunction with the confirmation of a firm order for more A380s by Doha-based Qatar Airways.
Airbus has for some time said it is considering an A330 P-to-F program. However, since the launch of the A330-200 production freighter program, the likely candidate for conversion has been the A33-300 (to avoid cannibalizing sales from the A330-200F program). However, even though sales of its A300-600 P-to-F conversions are winding down, Airbus has given no hint regarding the timing of a possible A330 P-to-F program.
Enter Qatar Airways, and its outspoken CEO Akbar Al Baker. Mr. Al Baker wants to convert his A330 passenger aircraft to freighters as they are replaced by newer models, and has been very public in his frustration that Airbus has been slow to grant his wish – threatening to turn to Boeing for his freighter needs if an A330 conversion program wasn’t offered. He also wants more A380s, and appeared to have made ordering them conditional on having his A330s converted. Qatar has sixteen A330-200s and thirteen A330-300s, and Al Baker has indicated he expects at least fifteen to be converted by 2016.
Our reading of the tea leaves on this is that an A330 passenger-to-freighter conversion program will be announced at Le Bourget, and that it will likely include both the A330-200 and A330-300 variants. The launch customer will almost certainly be Qatar, with the conversion work being done at EFW’s Dresden facility (at least initially).
We will take a more detailed look at how this will impact the market for medium widebody freighters in the June issue of Cargo Facts (click here for information on how to subscribe), but leave you with one further thought: Qatar does not need 29 more medium widebody freighters. It will put some of the units it has converted into its own fleet, and most of the rest into a subsidiary leasing company. But Qatar is about to sign an agreement to purchase a 35% stake in Cargolux, and we would not be surprised to see some of the freighter-converted A330s operating out of Luxembourg.