At the end of 2020, 155 commercial aircraft were converted to transport cargo in the cabin, in view of the demand for medical supplies to face the COVID-19 pandemic and to mitigate the economic impact caused by the closure of borders. Cirium Aviation data researcher Bin He mentioned that at the beginning of the health crisis Chinese companies distributed essential cargo across the country on board passenger jets, but also placed on seats.
"But as it intensified and global demand increased rapidly, it became clear that airlines needed a more radical solution," he explained in his Cabin cargo: a bright spot analysis. In that country, he said, 38 aircraft belonging to 10 different airlines were modified, just over half of those aircraft are Airbus A330s, 14 of them operated by China Eastern Airlines. "China Eastern started operating flights where boxes were carried on the seats, but in March they were removing the seats completely, further maximizing the cargo capacity of each aircraft.
The A330 has been a very popular vehicle for these operations, representing the 31% of the fleet ”, he stated. Similarly, Lufthansa converted 10 of its A330 aircraft after approval for its subsidiary Lufthansa Technik to modify these units, although some have already had their seats reinstalled, allowing them to return to passenger service. In addition to 49 A330s, 45 Boeing 777s from 16 different airlines were converted, including those from Emirates which has modified 10 777-300ERs to operate as mini freighters, each of which had 360 seats, 305 have been eliminated, creating space to transport 17 tons of cargo, additional to the 50 tons in the warehouse, to name a few.
According to the analysis, the regions with the most transformations were Asia-Pacific and Europe, with 62 and 58 aircraft, followed by the Middle East with 12, North America with 9, Latin America with 8 and Africa with 6. So far, 60 aircraft, equivalent to 39% of the cabin cargo fleet, have completed their tasks, so most have returned to passenger service. Chris Seymour, Ascend by Cirium's head of market analysis, said that early in the pandemic there was an urgent need to move cargo quickly. “Now that things have settled down, airlines are looking at how to move cargo profitably.
Loading cargo in cabins requires a great deal of labor, compared to cargo in the belly of aircraft. Given that global demand continues to evolve rapidly, it is difficult to make predictions for the medium or long term, ”he said.
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