Etihad snaps up A350 Freighters ahead of passenger launch

Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) for seven of Airbus’ next-generation cargo jet.

The breakthrough was announced at the Singapore Airshow, with the scaled down event still attracting a steady flurry of transactional activity.  

If the LoI is realised, the incoming freighters will complement Etihad’s existing passenger fleet of five A350-1000s. These five form just a fraction of a blockbuster order which was initially placed at the Dubai Airshow in 2013 but later radically scaled back amid wider restructuring at the UAE airline.

Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways' long-haul widebody fleet is currently dominated by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Reflecting on the deal, Tony Douglas, chief executive officer of the Etihad Aviation Group said: “Etihad is delighted to extend our relationship with Airbus to include this remarkable aircraft as part of our freighter fleet for the future.

"As our cargo operations continue to overperform and we work towards a more sustainable future built upon the world’s youngest and most fuel-efficient fleet, the addition of the A350F will play a key role in driving our long-term cargo strategy and achieving our 2035 target to reduce CO₂ emissions by 50%.”

The airline has also confirmed that Airbus’ Flight Hour Services (FHS) package will be purchased to support both the cargo and passenger variants of its A350 fleet. With a 109 tonne payload capability, the A350F boasts some of the beefiest capacity in its class.

The aircraft – powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines – features a large main deck cargo door, with its fuselage length and capacity optimised around the industry’s standard pallets and containers. 

Christian Scherer, chief commercial officer and head of international at the European OEM added: “We are pleased to sign this agreement with our long standing partner Etihad, shortly before this most discerning airline also introduces A350 passenger service.

"Thank you Etihad for endorsing the game changing nature of the new A350F. The world’s only new generation large freighter will be unmatched in its market segment in terms of range, fuel consumption and CO₂ savings.”

While the Boeing 787 Dreamliner forms the backbone of Etihad’s long-haul passenger fleet, part of the appeal for prospective customers is the A350F’s high level of commonality with the A350 passenger jet. The Abu Dhabi-based firm is expected to enter A350 passenger operations in the coming months.  

Airbus A350

As of February 16, 2022 the A350F has won firm orders and commitments for 29 aircraft from five customers – although notably not from Qatar Airways. Airbus and the Doha-based carrier are locked in a fraught war of words and high-profile legal action over alleged quality issues on its A350, resulting in the airline snubbing the Toulouse-built widebody and sealing a mega deal with arch rival Boeing and its 777-8F.