Airbus’ global market forecast for freighters, issued in 2011, envisages cargo aircraft demand of 2,731 over the next 20 years, consisting of 834 new-builds and 1,897 conversions. Key factors that will drive the demand for freighters are the expanding cargo market and the need to replace older aircraft. Most of the demand growth over the next 20 years will come from the mid-size freighter market, which is occupied by the A330.
Possible candidates for replacement by the A330 P2F (passenger-to-freighter conversion) are the Boeing MD-10F/McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and at the lighter end, the Airbus A300 and A310 freighters. All these aircrafts still have a considerable global presence. According to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database, there are 81 MD-10Fs in active service, 198 A300 freighters and 54 A310 freighters. Most of these aircrafts are operated by U.S. express carrier, FedEx.
The optimal age for freighter conversion is 15 to 20 years; early A330 models are within this age range.
The success of the passenger-to-freighter conversion program depends on the availability of "feedstock" aircraft ready for conversion. The feedstock is plenty – the Ascend Online database lists a total operational A330 fleet of 800 aircraft, split nearly equally between the -200 and -300. Given the fact that the first passenger-to-freighter conversion is not due to roll out until 2016, there will be even greater feedstock availability as airlines de-fleet in favour of new models.
The potential first customer for the conversion will be Qatar Airlines. The airline has 29 A330-200 and -300s in service, and has been urging Airbus to launch an A330 cargo conversion program.
Airbus has been previously reluctant to launch this program for fear that it might affect its sales prospects for the -200F. However, the two products are "complementary". To date, the passenger-to-freighter conversion program has not slowed down sales prospects for Boeing's 767-300 Freighter.
The increasing focus on age limitations, payload range, and available feedstock for conversion are the key factors that will influence the success of this program.