Cargo takes flight in cabin comfort

Cargo strapped into passenger seats aboard a Lufthansa A330 (photo: Lufthansa)

PASSENGER planes are increasingly being used to transport freight to the US, with some parcels even travelling in empty seats.

Sending packages to the US during the current coronavirus epidemic remains largely unaffected, said the US parcel delivery specialist ParcelHero, although it warned of delays as airlines’ cargo capacity is limited.

‘Several airlines have increased cargo capacity by flying international services empty of passengers, with only freight and parcels aboard,’ said David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero.

At the start of the coronavirus travel bans it emerged that some salmon producers were using empty aircraft to send fish abroad.

Avinor, the Norwegian airport operator, said demand for air freight space had increased sharply but so had the cost.

In normal times, salmon is often flown in the cargo compartments of passenger planes, for example, from Oslo to the US and Asia and from Heathrow to global markets.

In a press release issued by ParcelHero, Jinks said: ‘Checking our USA courier comparison pages reveals a wide range of services are still available, from all the major international couriers, covering a comprehensive selection of price and timing options.

‘The main concern is that between 45 and 50 per cent of the world’s air cargo is usually transported in the belly of passenger aircraft; but the majority of US passenger services have been suspended – it has not been possible for most British nationals to enter the USA since March 16.

‘That means a significantly reduced amount of cargo space is available to the USA, resulting in delays of around 24-48 hours for some services.

‘In an effort to ease demand and recoup some of the money passenger airlines are now haemorrhaging, a long list of airlines, including BA, Delta, Cathay and American Airlines, are introducing what are being termed ‘passenger freighter’ services.’

The boss of British Airways owners IAG, Willie Walsh, said: ‘Our intention is to try and keep as much of our capacity available for critical supplies that need to be shipped around the world.

‘We may operate some of our passenger aircraft just for belly-hold cargo to ensure we keep critical supplies moving.’

ParcelHero said other airlines, such as Delta, are already operating mail services from European destinations to the US using idled passenger aircraft; its Airbus A350s can carry 49 tonnes in their hold.

‘And Lufthansa has gone one better,’ said Jinks. ‘It’s cosseting cargo not only in the hold, but on seats.

‘Lufthansa loaded an Airbus A330 passenger jet with highly urgent goods, mainly from the medical sector, strapped to its seats, on a flight recently; and is planning to operate more such flights.’



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