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With a global shortage of air cargo space and extraordinary demand to move emergency medical supplies, some overseas passenger airlines are taking out the seats on aircraft to make more room for freight. U.S. airlines are also asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to fly cargo in the main deck where passengers normally sit, including the option of removing seats, an industry source said.

A decision on basic main-deck loading is expected very soon. FAA sign-off for more complex modifications could take a couple weeks longer, the source said, adding “the exact framework for seat loading under U.S. regulations is not yet fully elaborated.” Adding, “almost every domestic airline is interested in using the cabin for cargo in some form.”

While an FAA spokesperson would not speculate the agency’s position on such requests, several airlines have confirmed they are working with the FAA. Those with ongoing requests include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

The decision to turn the airplanes into double-deck freighters underscores the global shortage of air cargo space and the pressure on airlines to find revenue anywhere possible after the coronavirus halted nearly all travel and forced carriers to ground most of their fleets. A month ago, many passenger airlines began offering their aircraft to cargo customers on a charter basis. Then some international carriers began flying cargo-only routes on regular schedules, while others utilized cabin space by putting light boxes in the seats. The fact that airlines are taking the next step and spending money to remove seats also reflects sky-high airfreight rates that airlines can command and the fact that passenger traffic won’t return to pre-coronavirus levels anytime soon.

Source: Freightwaves