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I heard an expert say that one of the A380's weaknesses is that it only comes in a passenger version, not a cargo one like the B747 does. The cargo version of the B747 makes its market wider. One more weakness of very large jumbo jets (A380 and B747) is that, nowadays, most flights fly directly to the destination (point-to-point), not hub-to-hub as in the 1970s. The point-to-point model causes airlines to make more frequent flights with smaller aircraft. In my country, even small airports are now international airports. Two neighbouring cities in neighbouring countries have small propeller aircraft flying directly between them, without having to go through the main airport in one country's capital city. This makes it very clear that very large jumbo jets are no longer required for passenger service.

On the other hand, the demand for air cargo has never been greater. Trade over the globe has to be quicker. This means that large jumbo jets are needed in cargo service, and - to allow easy centralization of cargo-handling equipment and personnel - it's generally preferable for these freighters to operate to and from the largest, most central airports in a country.

The question is, is it possible to convert an A380 for cargo service when there is no longer a market for the passenger version?

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you @sean have edited this question. You made it more understandable. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Feb 17 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ Also note one of the key reasons people like the 747-8F is that the nose of the airplane can swing up and allow you to load stuff directly in. The 380 would not be able to do that $\endgroup$ – Zachary K Feb 18 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ That I heard that since the begining, Boeing has designed the airplane for cargo anticipate the market. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Feb 18 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ it was my understanding that they figured that Concorde and similar SSTS would take over the long haul passenger market, so they built the 747 to be a good freighter $\endgroup$ – Zachary K Feb 19 at 7:54
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Airbus originally planned on a freighter version and UPS and FedEx both ordered some of them. Production delays with the passenger version resulted in the freighter version being delayed and both of them canceling their orders.

The main issue why there is no freighter version is that the internal volume of the aircraft is too large to make it economical for cargo operations. I.e. the density of the cargo generally is too high to take advantage of the full internal volume before hitting the aircraft's maximum take-off weight. As a result, you end up hauling a whole lot of "extra airplane" around. The only time that extra volume is useful is for really low-density cargo loads.

That extra internal volume is useful if you have to move a large number of passengers into slot-constrained hub airport like London Heathrow or JFK but packages don't care much about personal space...

In words other than mine:

An A380-F would be too fat to fly at a profit: The plane would hit the maximum payload (a constraint of weight) before its maximum cubic space (a constraint of volume). Its design can’t support the maximum payload required to generate a profit.

Here are some good other more in-depth analyses.

Something that was surprising to me initially was the amount of modifications that are necessary to convert a passenger aircraft to a cargo aircraft. This paper from a Bedeck Aviation Group (Boeing affiliated passenger to cargo conversion house) provides a good breakdown of the steps required for a 767 conversion. This video from Boeing provides a good visual summary as well (music and hair styles are an added bonus).

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  • $\begingroup$ So, can I say that, almost no chance to convert it? $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Feb 17 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ That's what I would speculate. Even if the money would be available to do the conversion tasks (such as main floor reinforcements), it is questionable it would ever be economically viable. $\endgroup$ – nodapic Feb 17 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting to see the fate of the King of the sky. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Feb 17 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ It very much depends on the type of cargo, which the linked article doesn't distinguish. Package freight companies, like UPS and FedEx ship things like Amazon boxes which are mostly air and have much lower density than say bulk car parts. Though the linked article makes a big fuss about the mass capabilities of the 747F, there's a reason why FedEx doesn't fly it: too much mass capability for volume. This is exactly why UPS and FedEx ordered the A380F, the volume made sense for their missions. $\endgroup$ – user71659 Feb 17 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ I got scared when they cut the hull of the 757. $\endgroup$ – Peter Feb 17 at 21:08
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It would certainly be physically possible to do so. The open question is how much it would cost and how much it's worth to carriers.

Airbus did promote the A380F Freighter as a possible application, and it was available for orders at one point.

However, while the aircraft has much more volume than others (like a 747), it does not lift proportionally that much more weight. So the market appears to be limited to package carriers which have lighter cargo. The folks carrying heavy stuff wouldn't be able to fill the plane. Both FedEx and UPS placed orders for it.

Airbus stopped work on the project to dedicate more resources to the passenger variant. The delays meant that the original orders were cancelled when no firm date could be given to the airlines for delivery. Wikipedia says that the option was removed from the Airbus webpage in 2015. Presumably if there were sufficient interest from airlines, the option would have been funded.

There's also the question of how you'd load the upper deck. A carrier would want to have cargo lift equipment that could put items there. That might be expensive to develop/obtain unless you're going to be running lots of planes and makes it harder to bring one in without the prospect of adding many more in the future.

Traditionally cargo carriers have been able to use older equipment that has been retired from passenger use. I suspect that some will eventually be converted, but that's pure speculation on my part.

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Short answer, Yes! Will it sell? This is a gamble that aircraft manufacturers need to evaluate. More powerful turbofan engines make a 5, or even 6 engined aircraft possible. (2 more on the rear fuselage would be my favorite).

But they would have to show a clear advantage to the 747 freighter. An analysis of potential routes and tonnage would be in order.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Antonov An-225 Mriya would be a potential candidate for the application. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Feb 18 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ The word "possible" must be deemed for many factors: physics (of course yes, but price will be probably the limiting factor), and effectiveness and efficiency. $\endgroup$ – AirCraft Lover Feb 18 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ Effectiveness and efficiency, yes. Everyone is saying it has too much volume to carry freight, I say add power. BTW price isn't the limiting factor, it is (and always will be) the ability to turn profit. Just take a look at the trend in oil tankers. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Feb 18 at 11:46

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