Work Begins on World's First A380 Freighter

German MRO provider Lufthansa Technik has revealed that it is conducting its first operational change on an Airbus A380. The firm is supporting an undisclosed customer with a passenger-to-freight conversion of the type, as the COVID-19 pandemic fuels a global cargo capacity shortfall.

Lufthansa Technik has received requests from more than 40 airlines for various aircraft. The highlight of the list of course, is the A380, which until now had failed to land a role as a cargo platform.

Henning Jochmann, senior director of aircraft modification base maintenance at Lufthansa Technik said: “As the workscope comprises much more than just taking out seats, you need engineering experts who know exactly what the challenges are and how to document the technical solutions so correctly that the aviation authorities agree.”

Airbus A380
Airbus originally offered the A380 in a freighter variant, but withdrew it from the lineup in 2015 after weak interest from potential customers. Airbus

The current exemption and Lufthansa’s solution can be transferred to a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) at a later point without major adjustments. This means that airlines who opt for conversions can make them permanent later if they wish.

Airbus itself offered an A380F variant until 2015, but delivered no examples following week interest from operators. The type would have had the largest payload capacity of any cargo aircraft, exceeded only by the Antonov An-225. The economics of the widebody did not work for its potential customers, as the trip cost was higher than its competitors.

Lufthansa Technik Cabin Model
Lufthansa Technik's cargo conversion solution uses the seat tracks on the cabin floor of passenger aircraft. Lufthansa Technik

The interest that Lufthansa is seeing in its passenger-to-freight services demonstrates that the economics in the context of COVID-19 have shifted. The price of air cargo has risen dramatically in response to the shortfall in capacity, meaning airlines all over the world are scrambling to increase the amount they can offer.

The German maintenance specialist says it is working “flat out” to obtain STCs for all common aircraft types so it can carry out conversions quickly.