PARIS (AP) -- Airbus will deliver the first of its new freight cargo aircraft in the summer of 2010, the company said Thursday after the plane took off on its maiden test flight.
Airbus says the aircraft, the A330-200F, meets a growing demand for freight haulers with smaller holds than the jumbo models currently based on rival Boeing Co.'s 747, and will be more economical to operate than the aging DC-10 freighters now serving the mid-size market.
"We see the first signs of recovery in the cargo market," Airbus' freighter marketing manager Jonathan Lesieur told reporters in a conference call.
Airbus forecasts total demand for about 1,600 freighters in the 30- to 80-ton capacity segment over the next two decades, Lesieur said.
The first A330-200F will be delivered to Etihad Crystal Cargo, an airline based in the United Arab Emirates, which has ordered three of the aircraft.
The A330-200F is a modified version of Airbus' A330-200 passenger jet, and it has a list price of around $180 million, Lesieur said. Since the program was announced in January, 2007, Airbus has received 67 firm orders from nine airlines for its freighter.
Last week Turkish Airlines announced its commitment to buy two A330-200Fs, though it has not yet placed a firm offer.
A version of the aircraft is also Airbus' contender for the U.S. Air Force's $35 billion contract to build new air refuelers and replace the Air Force's aging fleet of 179 tankers.
Lesieur said that Airbus could locate manufacturing of the A330-200 in Alabama if it wins the contract. Airbus is competing with Chicago-based Boeing for the order.
Airbus and its partner Northrop Grumman Corp. are offering a tanker based on the Airbus A330. Boeing may offer tankers based on its 767 or 777 jets or both.
Airbus is a a unit of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.