Airbus is considering developing a freighter version of the A350 aircraft, according to a report in Reuters.
The report states that the airframer has been canvassing airline opinion on the potential for a widebody freighter version of the aircraft, which would be a little longer than the A350-900.
Airbus will need commitments from around 50 airlines before it can launch a programme, Reuters said.
One challenge would be cutting into the composite frame in order to install a cargo door.
The move would appear to make sense if the company wishes to maintain a presence in the production line freighter market.
Interest in the A330F — Airbus' current production freighter — has dried up and there are no outstanding orders for the aircraft after it delivered just 38 of the model.
In terms of capacity, the A350F would compete with the B777F although its extra length would suggest a larger volumetric capacity, making it suitable for e-commerce/parcel demand.
Meanwhile, orders for Boeing's 100 tonne capacity B777F continue to roll in and the all-cargo market also continues to surge, with many suggesting it could take years for long-haul passenger services — and therefore cargo capacity — to return to previous levels.
However, the air cargo market is cyclical and could easily have entered a slump by the time of launch.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of unused passenger aircraft that could be converted into freighters to cater for demand – although there are limited widebody freighter conversions for aircraft of that size.
Reports that Airbus is considering launching an A350 freighter programme have been circulating over the last few years as the company looks to launch an alternative to the B777F.
In 2007, Air Cargo News sister title FlightGlobal reported that Airbus was considering a A350-900F, which would have a similar payload and volume to the 90 tonne MD-11F and a range of 9,250km (5,000nm).
In turn, Boeing is reportedly considering a B777X freighter programme.