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Toulouse, France - More than 50% of air freight is being carried in the cargo holds of passenger planes. For Transatlantic routes, that number rises to about 80%. But many passenger fleets now grounded due to the pandemic and, the airfreight capacity has fallen dramatically.

According to the global capacity report published by Seabury on April 3, global air cargo capacity has dropped 35% compared to the previous year. The profoundly restricted room for cargo has now caused air freight prices to skyrocket, especially from China and other Asian states such as Malaysia, which provide medical supplies to the west to fight against the virus outbreak.

To meet the increasing demand, many airlines around the world removed economy seats from their passenger planes and modified these planes to transport cargo in the passenger cabins.

In parallel with these developments, Airbus is now working on a fast modification solution for A330 and A350 family widebody jets that will enable airlines to install freight pallets directly onto the cabin floors after removal of the economy-class seats.

The modification is aimed at the high demand for humanitarian flight and medical cargo transportation, as well as ensuring business continuity throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

According to Airbus, the company’s solution facilitates easier and quicker loading and unloading operations as compared with loading cargo directly onto seats. Other important benefits include:

  • Reduced wear and tear to seats;
  • Added security of robust fire protection; and
  • 9g load restraint capability.
The company stated that the modification is to be sold to operators as an Airbus Service Bulletin (SB); meaning Airbus would define the engineering work scope and manage the process for obtaining the one-time certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) end-to-end.

Its scope includes the removal of the seats and in-flight entertainment, installation of cargo pallets and associated safety equipment – and also the re-installation of the original passenger cabin elements for reverting to passenger operations.

Airbus has announced the rollout after several high-profile airlines have taken a number of different tacks to temporarily repurpose airlines for cargo operations. Transport Canada recently approved the conversion of three Air Canada aircraft, and the FAA recently followed suit.

Likewise, a new cargo seat bag that can repurpose an A320 passenger plane into a makeshift freighter was given the green light by the European Aviation Safety Agency earlier this month. This allowed Germany’s Lufthansa to refit a number of its 426-seater 777-9s for cargo missions.

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