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Silk Way West Airlines orders A350 freighters in Airbus pivot

Azerbaijan cargo carrier operates an all-Boeing fleet

Silk Way West Airlines, an all-cargo carrier based in Azerbaijan, placed an order with Airbus on Tuesday for two A350 large freighters, moving from an exclusive Boeing fleet for the first time. 

The decision is another win for Airbus as it makes its first serious challenge to Boeing’s dominance in the production freighter market. With the Silk Way West deal Airbus now has 33 preliminary orders and commitments for the A350 freighter program it launched late last year. Air France, Air Lease Corp., CMA CGM Air Cargo, Singapore Airlines and Silk Way collectively have 24 firm orders. Etihad is closely studying whether to go through with a purchase of seven cargo jets and Air France has options for four more.

Airbus (DXE: AIR) plans to deliver the widebody freighters to Silk Way West during the 2027-28 period. The airline also has rights to increase its order by two aircraft. 

Silk Way West, founded a decade ago, is heavily investing in the expansion of its network to meet growing cargo demand for general freight and e-commerce. The company operates 14 Boeing 747 jumbo cargo jets and last year ordered five 777-200 freighters from Boeing. It operates about 350 scheduled flights per month around the world. 

The A350 freighter is based on the popular long-range A350 passenger jet with a large main deck cargo door and cabin optimized for cargo. Airbus says the cargo jet offers 11% more volume and a 20% reduction in fuel use due to composite materials that reduce its weight by 33 tons and twin Rolls-Royce engines. It has a 120-ton payload capability, with interior volume equal to the 747 freighter and three more pallet positions than the 777. It also meets new International Civil Aviation Organization CO2 emission standards that go into effect in 2027. 

Boeing (NYSE: BA) has for decades dominated the production and conversion market for freighters, but Airbus in the past year has mounted a serious challenge with the new A350, the launch of an A321/A320 narrowbody conversion program by subsidiary EFW and a spike in interest for EFW conversions of the A330 medium widebody as more of those used passenger aircraft become available at lower values. 

Boeing is fighting back with its rival to the A350, the 777-8, and expansion of conversion lines for the 737-800 standard-size jet. Boeing has 41 firm orders for the 777-8, with 34 production slots reserved by Qatar Airways. The other seven orders are from Lufthansa.

Air cargo traffic increased 6.9% last year, compared to the same pre-pandemic period, according to the International Air Transport Association. Airbus forecasts 2.7% annual volume growth in general cargo, representing about three-quarters of the market, and 4.7% growth for express freight by 2019, while Boeing projects air cargo traffic will double with annual growth of 4.1%, including express shipments.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at