Singapore Airlines (SIA) has completed a previously announced purchase agreement for seven Airbus A350F freighters. The airline’s CEO, Goh Choon Phong, and Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer signed the final agreement on Wednesday during the Singapore Airshow. SIA is scheduled to become the first operator of the type when the new freighters begin replacing the current Boeing 747-400F fleet from the fourth quarter of 2025.
“This order underscores the importance of the cargo market to the SIA Group,” said Goh. “The introduction of the A350F will enhance our capabilities in this key sector, ensuring that we are ready for the growth opportunities that will arise in the coming years. These new-generation aircraft will substantially increase our operating efficiencies and reduce our fuel burn, making an important contribution towards the success of our long-term decarbonization goals.”
Boeing holds a monopoly in the large freighter fleet, which comprises around 720 Boeing 747F, 777F, and MD-11F aircraft. Airbus is primarily targeting the 747F/MD-11F replacement market with the A350F but, importantly, the freighter will fully comply with strict ICAO carbon dioxide emission regulations scheduled to come into effect in late 2027. The A350F's ability to carry a maximum structural payload of 109 tonnes trumps the 777F, and in all-pallet configuration it offers a slightly greater volume than the 747F.
The A350F is based on the A350-1000 airliner but has five fuselage frames removed from the forward fuselage to optimize center-of-gravity. Designers removed almost all cabin windows and all but the forward passenger door. The aft-fuselage main deck loading door on the port side is an extra-large composite unit that can admit outsize items, including all modern aircraft engines. Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97s power the aircraft itself.
The airplane features a state-of-the art cargo handling system and, uniquely, both main and lower decks can be loaded simultaneously to considerably reduce turnaround times. The main deck can accommodate thirty 96-by-125-inch pallets of up to 118 inches in height, while the lower deck can hold twelve 96-by-125-by-64-inch pallets and two LD3 containers. The floor is rated for “super pallets” of up to 28 tonnes in weight. Usable volume totals 717 cubic meters.
The cargo area retains full climate control across five zones, which operators can regulate to temperatures between 4 and 25 degrees Celsius. This is particularly important for live animal transport. The courier seating area at the front of the cabin can adjust to cater for varying numbers, another factor for animal transport operations when couriers and veterinary staff might need to accompany the livestock.
Thanks to the extensive use of composites and titanium alloys—which between them account for 70 percent of the aircraft—the A350F weighs much less than similarly-sized competitors, dramatically affecting its range/load performance. Critically, that brings the world’s busiest large freighter route between Hong Kong and Anchorage—with an equivalent still air distance of around 4,600 nm—within the aircraft’s maximum payload range of 4,700 nm. With payload reduced to 92 tonnes, the aircraft’s reach extends to 6,000 nm, bringing Alaska, eastern and northern Europe, much of Africa, and all of Asia within range of Singapore. Airbus claims that the A350F will burn significantly less fuel than rival Boeing’s forthcoming 777-8F freighter.
Last November Airbus logged its first commitments for the A350F, beginning with an order for seven from Air Lease Corporation. CMA CGM Air Cargo followed up with a four-aircraft order the same month, and Air France ordered a similar number. SIA announced its seven-aircraft requirement in December. Late on Wednesday, Airbus announced that Etihad Airways has also signed a LOI for seven A350Fs. Airbus is beginning the manufacture of the first A350F components this year and intends to fly the first aircraft in the last quarter of 2024, in time for entry into service in late 2025.