Airbus is reportedly considering building a freighter version of its A330neo wide-body jet, after receiving requests from potential customers Amazon.com and United Parcel Service (UPS), people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. The new freighter would compete with Boeing’s popular 767-300 in the global air cargo market which has been recovering from a decade-long slump.

Airbus decision to move ahead with a new freighter model could help lift the slow sales of the A330neo (New Engine Option) which has so far struggled in the market, Bloomberg reports. The aircraft has accumulated 214 orders and recently lost a sale when Hawaiian Airlines cancelled its order of six Airbus A330-800neos and chose to purchase 10 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners instead.

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Hawaiian Airlines announced the decision to buy ten Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners for a total of $2.82 billion, with an option for ten more. The Honolulu-based airline also announced cancelling its previous order of six Airbus A330-800neos.
 

The interest from Amazon and UPS in the new A330 cargo model could revive a competition between rival plane makers Airbus and Boeing in the global air cargo segment. A freighter version of the A330neo – Airbus smallest wide-body jetliner – would compete with Boeing’s popular 767 freighter in the medium-wide body freighter market, Bloomberg writes.

Airbus freighter portfolio currently consist of the mid-size A330-200F freighter, the larger A330-200P2F (Passenger-to-Freighter conversion), and the voluminous Beluga, also known as the A300-600ST (Super Transporter). Meanwhile, Boeing freighter family consists of the high-volume 747-8F, the long-range 777F, the smaller 767F, and the new 737-300BCF and 737-800BCF.

Boeing with its range of freighters is leading the air cargo industry. The company has 196 orders for its 767-300, which is almost five times more than the Airbus A330-200F. Hence, to support the A350 XWB ramp-up and other production increases, Airbus is also developing a new super transporter, with the first of five BelugaXL aircraft set to enter into service in 2019.

To boost sales of the A330neo, Airbus has offered to increase the jet’s maximum takeoff weight and range. Now, both Amazon and UPS are asking the European plane maker to stretch the A330-900’s fuselage to enable it to carry more cargo while flying a shorter range, Bloomberg writes. The A330-900neo currently has the range of 6,550 nautical miles; its fuselage stretches to almost 19 feet.

A freight variant would be a simple advancement since the aircraft uses the same fuselage as its predecessor, the A330ceo (Current Engine Option). Particularly since there is already a freighter version of the earlier model, the A330-200F. The aircraft received just 42 orders over more than a decade and only four been delivered.

Amazon plans an initial fleet of 40 used Boeing 767 freighters for its Prime Air fleet. UPS is also studying possibilities for acquiring new and used aircraft, according to sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports. Airbus has not yet commented or released any official statement on its plans.

According to Boeing‘s biennial World Air Cargo Forecast (WACF), world air cargo traffic has struggled to maintain sustained growth since the end of the global economic downturn. However, Boeing has projected it would return to trend growth by 2018.

Despite the weak growth of the past decade, the company states that over one-half of air cargo is still carried on freighters. As for the outlook of freighter fleet, Boeing states that the number of airplanes in the worldwide freighter fleet will increase by 70 percent by 2035 as air cargo traffic more than doubles.