Volga-Dnepr interested in A350F but aircraft fuselage concerns emerge

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Volga-Dnepr delegation held a meeting with Airbus’s top management about the launch programme for A350 freighter conversion, as a wide-body cargo aircraft solution, hosted on board Airbus’s A350-1000 on July 22, 2021, during the MAKS 2021 international aviation and space salon held in Russia. There are, however, concerns emerging about the widebody aircraft as Qatar Airways grounded thirteen A350s citing fuselage degradation.  

The delegation, headed by the chairman of the board of directors Aleksey Ivanovich Isaikin met Airbus executive president for the European Region Wouter Van Wesche.

The all-cargo carrier that specialises in large air freight shipments, along with its subsidiaries, never had any Airbus aircraft in its freighter fleet that includes Antonov, Ilyushin and Boeing aircraft. The group’s interest in the new A350 production freighter, along with their curiosity to be the launch customer for the MC-21-300 freighter version, could be a serious attempt to diversify fleets to offer customised solutions to customers around the world.

For example, Volga-Dnepr deployed its first Boeing 777 freighter for commercial service in December 2020 after operating the same kind of airplanes for 15 years.

Konstantin Vekshin, chief commercial officer, Volga-Dnepr Group, in an April 2021 Cargo Masterminds interview with The STAT Trade Times said they are very well prepared for additional airplanes in the near future.

When asked if they will induct more B777 freighters, he said, “We would love to but it is a learning curve for us. It seems to be a great airplane and it is a nice addition to our fleet. It is also friendlier in terms of environmental concerns. At the same time, it is a new chapter for us."

Airbus announced the approval for the production of the A350 freighter derivative in July along with the half-year 2021 results, following many feedbacks from their carrier customers and informed that it will enter into service by 2025.

The A350 technology advancements include a wing design that helps the aircraft to automatically adapt to certain flight phases, which allows for improved aerodynamics and fuel economics. The fuselage of the aircraft is made of carbon fibre, which, together with the technological design of the aircraft, can reduce fuel consumption by 25 percent, according to Volga-Dnepr. 

Qatar Airways, one of the biggest operators of A350s (53 aircraft of -900 and -1000 versions),  issued a release on August 5, 2021 citing “significant condition across its Airbus A350 fleet in which the fuselage surface below the paint is degrading at an accelerated rate.”  The airline has grounded thirteen A350 aircraft and has already taken action to return its A330 fleet into service with immediate effect to offset the impact.

Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways Group, said, “Qatar Airways expects Airbus to have established the root cause and permanently corrected the underlying condition to the satisfaction of Qatar Airways and our regulator before we take delivery of any further A350 aircraft.”

Meanwhile, the benefits of an A350 freighter would be that it meets ICAO C02 emission standards and will have 20 percent less fuel burn compared to twin-engine freighters, 30 percent less compared to trijets and 40 percent less compared to quadjets, as per the Airbus announcement.  

With 55 aircraft, Singapore Airlines became the largest operator of A350 by inducting three more into its fleet in April 2021. Meanwhile, Airbus delivered the first A350-900 from its widebody completion & delivery centre in Tianjin (C&DC), China, to China Eastern Airlines in July 2021.   

With 915 firm orders from 49 customers at the end of June 2021, the A350 family is one of the most successful widebody aircraft.

With dozens of carriers pushing for the freighter derivative of A350, the new aircraft coming in 2025 could be a great addition to global air cargo freighter capacity even though  concerns persist.


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