The A330 freighter has had a long gestation period, being first mooted in 2001 as a replacement for the aging A300-600F programme. As it happened Airbuses problems with the A380 forced the suspension of the programme until 2006 with the A300-600F then scheduled to cease production in 2007. The A300 had sold well as a new build pure freighter and a converted passenger to freighter aircraft so with what Airbus regarded as a "very low investment" the A330-200F built around the popular twinjet could hardly go wrong.
The A330-200F was launched in January 2007 with 32 commitments; from an Indian startup, Flyington Freighters, plus lessors Intrepid Aviation Group and Guggenheim Aviation Partners. The weakness of these launch orders would come back to haunt Airbus. Flyington doubled its order from 6 to 12 aircraft but following delays to the A330F, which saw it be 2 years late, Flyington never got off the ground and the orders were cancelled.
The A330-200F adopted aspects of the A300F including the same sized cargo door (it already had the same fuselage cross-section allowing 2 industry standard 96" containers abreast). The angle the door opens to was however, unlike in the A300, limited to about 70 degrees allowing a simplification of the opening mechanism. The internal cabin was split into two temperature zones each allowing temperatures as low as 5 degrees Celsius for transporting perishable goods.
Protection for the forward maindeck area and cockpit was changed from cargo nets in the A300 to a solid barrier in the A330. This area can seat up to 12 passengers if needed or folding seats, a galley, lavatory and rest area. The most obvious difference between the two types is however the obvious nosegear blister fairing. This is nicknamed "La boufiolle' by the French engineers for its resemblance to a chemist's apothecary jar.
The blister was the answer to the problem of the A330's natural nosedown attitude, which was an issue for cargo loading. Raising the fuselage level avoids the need for complex, heavy and expensive power drive units to move the pallets around. It was one of 13 options Airbus investigated. The other 12 included:
The final solution allows the use of the same nosegear as the passenger A330 but just situates it lower - hence the need for the blister. The blister has no negative aerodynamic effect but using the same gear enables commonality with passenger A330s. Overall the A330-200F can carry 15t more payload over 2,500 km further than the A300. It has also acquired many of the upgrades from the passenger A330 and even enabled higher gross weight variants of the passenger models to be developed.
The A330-200F first flew on November 5, 2009 with the first deliveries to Etihad Crystal Cargo in July 2010. Following the global depression of 2008 the delays to the A330-200F were probably seen as a blessing with the resulting collapse of the airfreight market in 2009. By May 2010 Airbus had secured 44 orders but this included the Flyington aircraft. At that point Airbus still had lofty goals for the freighter. They foresaw a need for about 400 new build mid-size aircraft over the next 20 years (plus 1,200 passenger to freight conversions). This has not come to pass and as of December 2016 only 36 A330-200Fs had been delivered with 6 on order. Thirty two of these aircraft are fitted with the Rolls Royce Trent 772 engine.
There have been several issues that have impacted the programme. Firstly following a pickup in the economy it was passenger aircraft that have been favoured and several of the leasing company customers (Intrepid for example) have converted their freighters to passenger A330s. In addition the pickup in the cargo market has been slow, whilst the A330 is positioned rather awkwardly between the 767-300F and the 777-200F. It is too much to replace the former but not enough to replace the latter. Airbus has not created a A330-300F aimed at the high volume freight market and so sales to carriers like FedEx have also been lacking. In fact none of the airline customers have replaced DC-10s or MD-10s with new A330Fs despite that being a market Airbus had identified for it.
Airlines that do operate the type have been happy with it. Hong Kong Airlines became the first customer in East Asia for the A330F in September 2010. It enabled them to enter the cargo market and as stated by their President Yang Jian Hong at the time:
"The A330-200F will enable Hong Kong Airlines to enter the dedicated cargo market with the most efficient aircraft available today in its class. With our new freight services we will be able to complement our fast-growing passenger network as we work to build Hong Kong Airlines as one of the leading carriers in the Asian region."
HK Airlines first three aircraft were leased from Aircastle Limited. They now operate 5 including one aircraft formerly operated by their HNA sister-group carrier Yangtze River Express.
2010, May. Airbus's general freight hauler: A330-200F technical description. Flight Global
2010, September. Hong Kong Airlines becomes new operator of A330-200F. Airbus.com
2011, February. India's Flyington cancels A330 freighter order. Flight Global
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: