Airbus (AIB, Toulouse Blagnac) has formally confirmed it will proceed with the construction of an A350 freighter variant with a planned service entry date set for 2025.

"Following Board approval, we are enhancing our product line with an A350 freighter derivative, responding to customer feedback for increased competition and efficiency in this market segment," Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said in the European manufacturer's 1H21 financial report.

He clarified that the freighter would be largely based on existing A350 passenger variants, the A350-1000 in particular. The aircraft will be assembled at Airbus's existing facilities at Toulouse Blagnac airport without the need for any significant investment in new assembly lines. The manufacturer hopes to benefit from the recent experience in developing the A330-700ST BelugaXL, an A330 subtype which it uses for in-house outsized cargo transportation.

"The beauty of the programme is that it will be embedded in the A350 production system, so we don't have to plan for an individual production rate [for the freighter]," Faury said.

Faury said that the A350 freighter would have a capacity north of 90 tonnes, although he did not go into any details concerning its projected performance data.

The A350(F) will pit Airbus against rival Boeing in a market segment that has thus far been dominated by the American company. The European manufacturer currently produces a single purpose-built freighter type, the A330-200F, but in practice, the programme appears to have run its course as Airbus has no more unfilled orders for it. The ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows that only thirty-eight A330-200Fs were produced. Airlines also operate three A330-200(P2F)s and seven A330-300(P2F)s, as they see the P2F conversions of A330-200s and A330-300s as a more viable option.

"There’s a strong utilisation of cargo capacity but still a lot of old [aircraft], and we see a wave of replacements for the second half of the decade. [We’ve] been quite absent from the widebody freighter market so far. It’s time for airlines to see some competition," Faury said.

Airbus ended the production of its previous A330-based freighters over a decade ago, with the last A300-600R(F) delivered to FedEx Express in July 2007. The vaunted A380-800(F) was dropped never having made it off the drawing board. In contrast, Boeing currently offers two new-build freighter types, the B767-300F (199 built and a further 51 on firm order) and the B777-200F (208 built and 46 on firm orders). The American manufacturer also proffers converted freighters based on the B767-200, the B767-300, and soon the B777-300(ER) passenger types.