(Updated Dec. 20, 8:45 A.M. ET)
Airbus on Friday landed ocean shipping and logistics giant CMA CGM as the second customer for its new freighter version of the popular A350 twin-aisle passenger aircraft as competition for dedicated cargo jets heats up to meet global shipping demand.
The European airframer said CMA CGM, which launched a cargo airline in March to diversify its business and better control capacity for its CEVA Logistics unit, has signed a preliminary sales agreement to buy four A350 all-cargo aircraft. The deal is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks. (Airbus announced Monday, Dec. 20, that the deal has been finalized.)
In late September, the French-based shipping company placed an order with Airbus rival Boeing for two production 777 freighters, which are expected to be delivered next spring. The A350 and 777 are long-haul aircraft in the same size category.
The news comes as Boeing (NYSE: BA) is marketing its next-generation 777X freighter, which has hit some technical bumps that have pushed back the development schedule. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr acknowledged Friday that the German airline is negotiating with Boeing on a potential purchase of the plane, according to Reuters. Spohr confirmed that Lufthansa will be the first airline to take the 777X passenger jet.
Qatar Airways is also considering the 777X, which will compete with the A350. And Cargolux is reportedly considering the A350 and 777X freighters.
International emissions requirements will force Boeing to stop production of the legacy 777 in 2027.
CMA CGM Air Cargo launched airfreight operations with four used A330-200 freighters it acquired late last year. The company has since added a fifth A330 cargo jet, as it looks to rapidly scale up its fleet. The company doesn’t actually fly aircraft. Instead it outsources that function to Air Belgium, a small passenger carrier.
More than 70% of the A350’s airframe is made of advanced composite materials, making it about 30 tons lighter than an aluminum-based aircraft. Less weight and the latest engine technology allow it to burn 20% less fuel than comparable aircraft. The A350 has a carrying capacity of 110 tons. Airbus says the freighter has a payload advantage over the 777 because it can carry 3 extra tons of cargo, or 11% more by volume, making it a strong candidate for general, special and express cargoes.
Airlines and leasing companies have been busy this fall ordering factory-built and converted freighters, culminating with many announcements at the Dubai Air Show this week.
Continued growth in global trade, reduced passenger flying, increases in pharmaceutical and perishable shipments and e-commerce are giving airlines and investors confidence in air cargo’s long-term growth.
The International Air Transport Association estimates worldwide e-commerce will reach $5 trillion this year, with air cargo projected to account for 20% of e-commerce shipments in 2022.