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AirAsia Is Eyeing A Narrowbody Airbus Freighter

AirAsia wants to start flying dedicated freighters as it diversifies away from its core low-cost passenger operations. Reports suggest the airline is talking to Airbus about developing a freighter version of its popular A321neo passenger plane.

AirAsia is in talks with Airbus about producing an A321neo freighter. Photo: AirAsia

irAsia wants Airbus to make an A321neo freighter

AirAsia has a massive 362 narrowbody aircraft order with Airbus. Recently, the airline has tinkered with that order, including upsizing some A320neos to A321neos. AirAsia has also extended the delivery timeline, which now runs through to 2035.

According to a Reuters report on Wednesday, AirAsia now wants to convert a “meaningful chunk” of those ordered passenger planes to freighters, specifically an A321neo freighter.

“For a lot of the markets that we need to reach both in range but also in capacity, it’s a great product,” Pete Chareonwongsak, CEO of AirAsia logistics division Teleport, said.

AirAsia is busy re-inventing itself from a purely low-cost airline into a southeast Asian logistics giant. The airline’s executives have expended a lot of time and energy developing to-the-door delivery options for people and packages, including drones and flying taxis.

Teleport already has its first dedicated freighter, a Boeing 737-800. It plans to take a further five over the next two years. But these planes are a stop-gap solution, and AirAsia is an Airbus airline. In the meantime, the Boeings will boost AirAsia’s freight capacity by 45%.

“We have pilots and spare parts for A320 family aircraft, so we would prefer it,” AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said earlier this year.

AirAsia received its first A321neo in 2019. Photo: AirAsia

irbus needs customers to commit

Whereas Boeing produces a range of dedicated freighters, aside from the future A350 freighter, the only dedicated freighter Airbus now makes is the A321P2F. A new-build A330-200F failed to take off, as did a freighter version of the A380.

Reports in August suggested Airbus was talking to potential customers about an A321neo freighter. But those reports also say Airbus won’t launch any new freighter versions without a baseline of customers already locked in. It is suggested Airbus will need at least 50 firm orders to consider an A321neo freighter.

Reuters cites an Airbus spokesperson saying they constantly talk to customer airlines about their future needs and adapt their product line accordingly. The Airbus spokesperson declined to provide specifics on any potentially soon to be announced A321neo freighter.

Insiders say Airbus will need at least 50 firm orders before starting to produce any freighters. Photo: AirAsia

Is Airbus over AirAsia?

A potential problem for AirAsia is that passenger planes from the A320 family have sold like hotcakes. Airbus is under no real pressure to generate further sales by developing costly variants.

AirAsia is also under financial pressure and has spent much of the last 18 odd months wrangling with Airbus over delivery dates and aircraft types in existing orders. Subsidiary airlines, such as AirAsia X, have proved especially problematic for Airbus.

Whether Airbus wants to deepen its relationship with AirAsia right now is an interesting question. But AirAsia has big ambitions in the freight sphere. Tony Fernandes has said a lot about this lately, seeing the AirAsia Group as the Amazon Prime of southeast Asia.

He is also under some pressure to act reasonably soon. China’s JD Logistics is eyeing a fleet of 100 dedicated freighters by the end of this decade, and AirAsia could lose any first-mover advantage.

Talks continue between AirAsia and Airbus. But it is uncertain whether they can do a deal in time for an announcement at the upcoming Dubai Air Show.