Air, Freight News

Airlines step up cargo capacity as passenger flights are wiped out

[ March 20, 2020   //   ]


Airlines around the world have stepped into the breach after scheduled passenger flights were suspended or severely cut back in the face of travel bans in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

American Airlines is using its otherwise grounded passenger aircraft in ‘bellyhold freighter’ mode to move cargo between the US and Europe, the first such flight due to depart from Dallas for Frankfurt on 20 March. The Boeing 777-300 will operate two round trips between DFW and FRA over four days, carrying only cargo and flight personnel. It is also the first scheduled cargo-only flight since 1984 when American retired the last of its Boeing 747 freighters.

The 777-300 has 14 cargo positions for large pallets and can carry more than 100,000 lbs. The four scheduled flights were expected to be booked to capacity and transport medical supplies, mail for the US military, telecommunications equipment and electronics to support people working from home and e-commerce packages. The flights also provide much-needed cargo capacity for many of the airline’s regular cargo customers, allowing them to continue operating in this challenging environment.

President of cargo and vice president of international operations, said Rick Elieson, said: “We have a critical role to play in keeping essential goods moving during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to do our part and find ways to continue to serve our customers and our communities. Challenging times call for creative solutions, and a team of people across the airline has been working nonstop to arrange cargo-only flight options for our customers.”

“It’s an honour to be part of these cargo-only flights,” added Ken Jarrell, fleet service clerk, cargo services in Dallas. “They represent much needed aid for the world and hope for our team. Our team members across the airline are ready and willing to do what it takes to make sure people have the things they need during these unprecedented times.”

In Asia, Hong Kong airlines Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon said they would slash passenger capacity by 96% in April and May but their freighter capacity would remain intact.

Chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said: “While our freighter network remains intact, we are also ramping up our cargo capacity by mounting charter services and operating certain suspended passenger services purely for airfreight to meet cargo customer demand.”

Cathay Pacific will operate only three flights per week to 12 destinations, including London Heathrow.

Turkish Cargo says it is increasing the frequencies of its freighter flights to keep cargo moving in the face of the widespread cuts to passenger flights.

It said it is planning to utilise all of the freighters in its fleet – the largest in the world, it says – at full capacity in order to meet all requirements of Turkish exporters and foreign trade.

It will also operate its passenger aircraft in belly cargo only mode.