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Delta Air Lines is the only major U.S. airline that currently plans to take advantage of federal authorization to strip passenger aircraft of their seats and substitute boxes of cargo.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month issued an exemption for domestic airlines to operate aircraft with floor-loaded cargo in the cabin. Industry watchers wondered whether rates were still high enough to justify the conversion expense. Many international airlines, with the help of their civil aviation authorities, quickly modified aircraft interiors to carry cabin cargo months ago.

Delta didn’t indicate how many aircraft it would transform into twin-deck auxiliary freighters. Other airlines don’t plan to make any engineering changes to accommodate cargo on the upper deck.

Airfreight rates fell from sky-high levels in the spring after the initial run on face masks and other hospital gear dissipated, leading airlines to remove some auxiliary freighters from service. However, demand and rates are rising again. As the traditional peak shipping season approaches, interest in passenger freighters is expected to increase and airlines could be tempted to clear seats from more cabins.

Source: Freightwaves