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New Freighter Market Opening Up For Rolls-Royce

DERBY, England—Buoyed by increasing numbers of Airbus A330 passenger-to-freight (P2F) conversions and the 2021 launch of the A350 freighter variant, Rolls-Royce sees the widebody cargo sector—an area in which it has had a limited presence up until now—as an increasingly important part of its future portfolio.

Rolls claims a 64% market share of the A330 with the Trent 700 engine and is sole source provider to the future A350F version with the Trent XWB. Despite recent headwinds facing the air cargo market, confidence remains high in long-term demand for both the single- and twin-aisle conversion sectors as well as the new-build arena.

Boeing’s 2022 World Air Cargo Forecast projects air cargo traffic is set to double by 2041 and the world freighter fleet is set to expand by more than 60% from 2022, requiring nearly 2,800 production and converted freighter airplanes. Two-thirds of freighter deliveries will be conversions, according to the outlook.  

The engine-maker says it has over 80% of the A330 P2F market to date, with more than 75 Trent 700-powered aircraft either already converted or due for modification through 2026. Between 2024 and 2028, Rolls forecasts about 200 further A330s will be converted for the freight role, for which engine selections have so far been made for around only 40 aircraft. Of these, around 30 are Trent 700-powered.

“A330s are going through conversions and they’re starting to find a market now in freighters,” says Piers Keywood, SVP Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace. “In the past, we did power some 747 freighters but broadly speaking this is a new market for Rolls-Royce. So, we are getting access to it through the conversion of passenger aircraft now. Clearly the A330 is well placed as a replacement for the 767, and there are fewer 767s around now to convert.”

According to Keywood, another factor favoring the Trent 700 is its relative youth compared to some of the original General Electric CF6-80 and Pratt & Whitney PW4000-powered aircraft. The Trent 700 powered fleet is on average two years younger than the CF6 fleet and four years younger than the PW4000.

While production of new Trent 700s continues at a very low rate for A330 military tanker-transport variants, the focus for Rolls is on extending the life and support of the current fleet. “The A330 with the Trent 700 has established itself very much as the engine of choice for this market, and we shall be growing that market if we are keeping the aircraft in service longer,” Keywood says. “Often freighter operators do tend to use the aircraft to an older point in its life.” 

“From a new production aircraft perspective, the A350 freighter is another place where we’re playing,” Keywood says. The A350F was launched by Airbus in 2021 and is due to enter service in 2025. “So again, that’s a market that we’re now able to access in a way that we weren’t even a few years ago.” 

Orders for the A350F, which will be powered by the higher thrust Trent XWB-97 variant, recently grew to 39—exceeding the total number of deliveries for the A330-200F. Although the order backlog for this earlier cargo aircraft once climbed to almost 80, sales were disappointing and only 38 have been delivered since it was launched a decade ago. The remaining backlog has since been removed by Airbus as the manufacturer refocuses on development of the more-capable A350F variant.

The Air France-KLM Group is the largest single customer for the A350F so far with orders for eight for Air France Cargo and Martinair. Logistics company CMA CGM has ordered four while Air Lease Corp., Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways have each ordered seven. The remaining two in the identified backlog are from Azerbaijan’s Silk Way West Airlines. Parts for the first A350F center wing box have meanwhile recently been produced at Airbus Atlantic in Nantes and are being shipped to the manufacturer’s Montoir-de-Bretagne site for assembly into a unified structure that—when complete—will measure 21.3 ft. long by 18.ft. wide and 12.8 ft. tall.

Source : AviationWeek