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Washington, D.C., U.S. - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued directive guidance for airlines planning to remove seats from passenger planes and transport cargo with them. 

The severe drop in demand for air travel canalized some airlines to conduct all-cargo flights in the cabin on empty passenger seats. The new safety alert for operators (SAFO) issued by the FAA now officially approves temporary conversions of passenger jets to freighters.

The SAFO says freight can be carried in the overhead bins, on the seats or on the floor, with the seats removed. The seat tracks can be used for tying down the cargo. The weight and balance have to be calculated and the floor strength considered in placing the freight. One or more airline employees have to ride with the cabin freight because there are no fire detection systems in the passenger cabin. The freight can’t block access to the fire extinguishers.

Transport Canada approved the conversion of three Air Canada Boeing 777-300s for cabin freight earlier this month and the aircraft have been flying regularly to China to pick up needed medical supplies. The conversion added almost 80 tons to the freight capacity of the heavies and they’ve transported millions of masks and gowns and dozens of ventilators. The airline is also using unconverted 787s and smaller 777-200s in cargo-only service and is doing a total of about 20 freight flights a week to Europe and Asia.

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