CFS 2022: Customers decide winning design features
This story originally appeared in Cargo Facts on Oct. 25, 2022
SAN DIEGO — As the Airbus-Boeing rivalry intensifies in the large-widebody freighter segment, the two manufacturers are each touting their commitments to customer choice to advance their respective programs.
For Airbus, customer opinion is the first priority in marketing its next-generation A350F, according to Head of Freighter Marketing Crawford Hamilton.
“One of the most important things you have in life — business or personal — is choice,” Hamilton said during a panel discussion on the A350 and the 777 at Cargo Facts Symposium 2022. “To make that choice easier for people that have been dominated by the competition for so many years, you have to listen to the customers.”
During the development of the A350F, Airbus sought feedback from customer airlines on systems they want or find useful, such as runway overrun avoidance systems, according to Hamilton.
“From there we start to look at developing and we have been doing that since 2015. We have done fifty to sixty customer focus groups,” he said. “Take transverse walkways. They weren’t there in the first design; they have come because of the customers.”
After first announcing the next-generation A350F program in the summer of 2021, Airbus announced Los Angeles-based Air Lease Corporation (ALC) as the launch customer at the Dubai Airshow that November.
In the year since, the A350F has earned firm orders for thirty-one total units. When the type enters into service in 2025, the airframe will serve alongside the 777F at Silk Way West and CMA CGM, replace the 747-400F at Singapore Airlines and replace the 777F at Air France.
Customers demand performance
For Boeing, customer relations has also played a significant role in the adoption of the 777F and the development of the new 777-8F, according to Brian Hermesmeyer, freighter customer leader at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
“Our customers over the course of many conversations helped us size the airplane,” Hermesmeyer said. These customers demanded from Boeing an aircraft with the performance of the 747.
After receiving its launch order for thirty-four units and options for sixteen from Qatar Airways at a ceremony at the White House in January, the 777-8F has attracted customers including Lufthansa, ANA and Cargolux for a total of fifty-eight units with options for twenty-two more.
Silk Way West Airlines, which has orders for both the A350F and the current 777F, indicated that availability was important and made its decisions around the retirement plan for its production 747-400F fleet, which consists of seven units averaging just over twenty-one years old.
“We plan to start phasing out our -400Fs in 2024,” said Ali Hajiyev, vice president of fleet development, strategy analysis and research at Silk Way West, which announced its order for five 777Fs in April 2021. “Show me another freighter that was available back then.”
Hajiyev added that the 777F’s features allowed it to optimize factors including volume, range and capacity.
“It wasn’t just availability,” he said. “When you look at all of those factors, the 777F hits all of them.”
Silk Way West also announced an order for two A350Fs in June, becoming one of only two known customers to currently have both types on firm order.
Hajiyev said the airline was also drawn to the A350F’s additional performance advantages, noting its preference for factory-built freighters. Despite the complexities of a mixed fleet, Silk Way foresees no problem being able to operate both the A350F alongside its Boeing freighters thanks to its MRO subsidiary SilkWay Technics and relationship with flag carrier Azerbaijan Airlines, he said.
“Airbus approached us, and we listened carefully and analyzed deeply,” Hajiyev added.
A350F versus 777-8F
Airbus’ new A350F has a maximum gross payload of 109 tonnes and a range of 4,700 nautical miles. It is approximately 70.8 meters long, sitting between the A350-900 and the -1000, and will offer thirty pallet positions.
In comparison, the 777-8F has a maximum gross payload of 118 tonnes and a range of 4,410 nautical miles, according to Boeing. It measures 70.9 meters in length — just a meter longer than the passenger 777-8 and around 5 meters shorter than the 777-9 — and has a total cargo volume of 766.1 cubic meters, which Boeing says is 17% more than the 777F.
The 777-8F will carry thirty-one pallets on its main deck: twenty-six 96” x 125” x 118”, four 96” x 125” x 116”, and one 96” x 125” x 96”, along with thirteen 96” x 125” x 64” pallets in the lower hold, according to Boeing.